Friday, February 9, 2018

Movie Documents the 2014 Record Turtle Strandings on Cape Cod

Michele with a 50 lb juvenile loggerhead sea turtle that she had just carried off the beach. It survived and was later released. The larger, 275 lb female, did not survive.

It takes a village — a very big village — to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from extinction. That’s one of the messages in “Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction,” a new feature-length documentary by filmmakers Michele Gomes and Jenny Ting of Seattle-based Interchange Media.

The film chronicles the 2014 sea turtle stranding season, which saw a record 1,242 turtles strand on the beaches of Cape Cod, and the combined efforts of conservationists, biologists, volunteers, members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, politicians and the Coast Guard to save the endangered animals.

“That season was huge. Nothing ever came close to that,” Bob Prescott, director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, told the Banner. “To put it in perspective, the previous record was 412 turtles.”

Prescott, who began the Cape Cod sea turtle rescue program 30 years ago, is featured in the film along with members of the sea turtle rescue community in Quincy, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mexico.

“Saving Sea Turtles” focuses on the Kemp’s ridley, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle species in the world. Juveniles range from 12 to 15 inches and weigh between five and 10 lbs., while adults are between two and three feet and can reach 100 pounds, according to flyers at the Wellfleet sanctuary. They feed on crabs, jellyfish and fish and mate in Mexico and Texas.

Kemp’s ridley’s biggest threats along the east coasts of Mexico and the United States are habitat loss, becoming entangled in fishing gear, and oil spills.

According to the film, prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, there was a 12 to 15 percent increase in Kemp’s ridley nesting each year because of conservation efforts. Turtle recovery had researchers thinking that the Kemp’s ridley would be removed from the endangered species list. But after the oil spill, their numbers nosedived back to critical levels.

“It will take years to sort out all of the ramifications of what happened to the Gulf of Mexico environment and [the turtles] in the gulf,” Dr. Patrick Burchfield says in the film. He directs the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, another member of the sea turtle conservation village and leader of the Bi-National Turtle Conservation Project.

Almost all Kemp’s ridley females return to Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas or Padre Island, Texas, where they lay their eggs. The hatchlings enter the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, then “they follow the warm water up to the Gulf of Maine, the fastest warming body of water on earth, and work their way down the coast,” said Prescott. “Once they get into Cape Cod Bay they can’t find their way out. It’s a trap. When water temperatures hit 50 degrees that’s when we see the turtles wash onto shore.”

It was during a visit to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in 2013 that the filmmakers first heard about the sea turtles stranding.

“We thought we’d walk around and see some birds but instead [the guide] talked about sea turtles stranding,” Gomes said. “That really piqued our interest because I grew up in Rhode Island and went to Wellfleet bay beaches often in my teens and never heard about sea turtles in New England waters. And to find out that the rarest of the rare turtles were stranding there: that was it. We knew we had to make this film.”

As Gomes and Ting prepared to make their documentary, they happened to run into a friend in Seattle who was connected to the Kemp’s ridley conservation project in Mexico.

“Our friend was working with Papa Tortuga [director of the Tecolutla Turtle Preservation Project] down in Mexico who coincidentally started a sea turtle conservation project in his area the same year Bob Prescott started his project in Wellfleet,” Gomes said. “Papa Tortuga started a cultural revolution in his town in Mexico. Instead of eating these turtles, the people were invested in saving them.”

“We thought we’d be doing a movie about sea turtles on Cape Cod, and then we started following the turtles all the way to Mexico and Texas and then to Georgia and Florida, where the stranded turtles are released,” Ting added.

In 2014 the filmmakers rented a place in Truro and stayed for five weeks so, Ting said, they wouldn’t miss a beat of the stranding season. They had no idea that they were going to film the record-breaking stranding season.

“On our first trip out on Cold Storage Beach in Truro, the beach was literally littered with turtles,” Gomes said. “Jenny walked towards Provincetown and I walked the other way and within minutes we were both heading back carrying three turtles each.”

“That’s when I first realized why the volunteers in the rescue effort had such urgency in their voices. They were going out in 20-mile-per-hour winds and saying, ‘Come on, we have to go.’ They didn’t have time to wait around for us to get ready,” said Ting. “Then you’re out there holding a turtle and its life is in your hands and you get it.”

The 2014 season caught everyone off guard.

“It was hard to film at times because you just want to put the camera down and help,” said Ting.

And they did.

“Michele and Jenny were fantastic,” said Krill Carson, a turtle rescue volunteer and founder of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance. “They would throw down their cameras and help carry turtles, do whatever needed to be done. They were passionate about the turtles. We didn’t know when we were in it how huge the season was. There were so many turtles coming down the pipeline into the sanctuary, you just put your head down and kept going. Quincy, where all turtles have to go, was so backed up the sanctuary was turned into a triage. We had so many volunteers out there. Families, retired people, professionals, young, old, everyone just coming together and doing what was needed. It was like a MASH unit.”

Barry and Donna Tompkins, two volunteers assigned to patrol Rock Harbor Beach in Eastham, were on-call day and night during the 2014 season.

“When the winds were northwest and the water temperature was 50 degrees or below, we walked the beach at every high tide whether it was at three in the morning or 10 at night,” said Donna Tompkins. “There hasn’t been a season like 2014, before or since.”

“Cape Cod is ground zero for the Kemp’s ridley turtles,” Gomes said. “If it wasn’t for what they were doing, all those volunteers out walking the beaches in all weather and at all times of the day and night, those turtles would just die and the species would have less of a chance of surviving.”

[Article by By Bari Hassman / Banner Correspondent. Source: Wicked Local Cape Cod.]

  • Great informative article about the filming of Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction HERE.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Volunteers search beaches as turtle stranding season begins

By Doug Fraser

WELLFLEET — Charlie Marcus, 12, and his father Peter collapsed in their Eastham hotel room Monday night. They’d flown out from Los Angeles over the weekend specifically to go out on patrols with Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary volunteers, rescuing endangered tropical sea turtles that succumbed to the first cold water temperatures of the season and washed ashore.

Turtle stranding season is here, with 80 sea turtles rescued off Cape Cod Bay beaches over the past week, and brought into the sanctuary for their initial treatment before being shipped to the New England Aquarium turtle hospital in Quincy for rehabilitation.

Monday proved particularly tough. The winds turned bitter cold and blew hard out of the southwest, and the two walked the beaches, picking up helpless turtles and transporting them back to the sanctuary, where they also assisted staff and volunteers who were measuring, cataloging, and taking the first steps in treating the first big pulse of strandings this year.

“There was so much life and death all around us, we were exhausted,” said Peter as the two headed out Tuesday afternoon with volunteers Barbara Brennessel and her husband, Nick Picariello, of Wellfleet, for a mile-long patrol from Great Island to Duck Harbor.

“It was really cold and windy,” Charlie Marcus said.

Every year, hundreds, sometimes thousands of these cold-blooded sea turtles, Kemp’s ridley, green turtles, and loggerheads, become trapped in Cape Cod Bay in the fall, and either cannot find their way out or leave too late and hit a wall of cold water as they approach the open ocean and turn back to the fleeting warmth of the shallow bay. They attempt to shelter in place, waiting out what they may believe is a passing cold front. But with time and the deepening cold, their metabolism slows down and muscles no longer function. They surface, immobilized and at the mercy of the wind that either blows them toward the shore where they suffer from exposure to the biting winds, or out to sea where they eventually die.

Hundreds volunteer every year at the Wellfleet sanctuary for the turtle patrols and rescue work. Brennessel, a retired Wheaton College professor, found it was a natural extension of research work she’d done on terrapin turtles at the sanctuary, although her motives transcended the dispassionate approach of a scientist.

“Every animal is unique, and it’s important because they are endangered species,” she said as she rifled through a mound of dead eelgrass, extracting, and pocketing a plastic sandwich bag entangled in tangled black strands. “They are suffering too, and I feel compassion.”

Charlie was 5 when he read about the diamondback terrapins — which are endangered in Massachusetts, but not listed federally, and live in the brackish marshes from Cape Cod to Texas. He was moved by the Wellfleet sanctuary’s efforts to improve their chance for survival by improving habitat, protecting nests and raising hatchlings for eventual release, and started sending donations.

This year, for his bar mitzvah charity project, he decided to focus on sea turtles. Peter Marcus, a Los Angeles intellectual property rights attorney, was born in Brooklyn and lived in the Berkshires, but spent many childhood summers in Wellfleet. The two decided to return to the Cape to experience turtle rescue firsthand.

“Understanding the full spectrum of life is something I hope to teach my children in a way they don’t teach in school,” Marcus said.

“He’s got that empathetic gene,” Marcus said of his son.

All sea turtle species are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“They’ve been here longer than people and we want them to stay that way,” Charlie said.

[Source and more photos can be found at the Cape Cod Times website HERE.]

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why Are Endangered Sea Turtles Showing Up Cold and Seemingly Lifeless on Northeastern Shores?

A green turtle undergoes its daily physical at the
New England Aquarium’s rehab facility. (Danielle Hall)

By Danielle Hall
December 29, 2016

A Kemp’s ridley turtle lies motionless, seemingly dead, along the high tide line on Skatet Beach. It’s exactly as Bob Prescott predicted. Prescott, the director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Cape Cod, bends down to move the turtle out of the reach of the cold ocean water, and covers it in seaweed to shield it from the wind.

It’s 6:45 a.m. on November 24, 2016. When Prescott looked at the weather report the previous night, he saw that one of the year’s first winter storms would soon be descending on New England, crossing the Northeast from Buffalo to the Eastern coast and bringing with it icy temperatures, lake effect snow, and chilling winds. That’s when he knew he would be up early in the morning, walking the beaches of Eastham and Orleans, in search of turtles.

The middle of October marks the beginning of a dangerous “cold stun season” for sea turtles caught on these Northeastern shores. Hundreds of turtles, mostly Kemp’s ridleys, wash ashore each year once ocean temperatures sink to 50 degrees F. The geography of the Long Island Sound and the curving Cape Cod Peninsula create a barrier to turtles trying to swim south, away from rapidly cooling waters. Before they can flee, icy waters often stun the cold-blooded reptiles into a paralyzed state, leaving them at the mercy of the tides, currents, and wind.

Fortunately, Prescott has cold stun stranding predictions down to a science. Using years of wind and stranding pattern data, he understands how turtles are pushed by wind to specific beaches along the inner arm of the Cape Cod peninsula. But it wasn’t until recently that experts were even aware of the mass turtle strandings that occur across Northeastern shores. Turtle bones from archaeological digs suggest the phenomenon has been occurring for hundreds of years, possibly since the formation of the Cape.

Whether turtles disappeared at some point from Northeastern waters or we simply were unaware of their presence remains unclear. But in the past 30 years, scientists have been stumped by a sudden upsurge in turtles found stranded, motionless and on the brink of death along these shores.

Read more at HERE.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Eversource and Mass Wildlife hold turtle protection program

Turtles are often killed by heavy machinery used along the pathways

By Adam Strzempko

AGAWAM, Mass. (WWLP) – Workers from Eversource, tree service contractors, and environmental consultants, along with biologists from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife gathered on the pathway under the high tension power lines on Moylan Lane in Agawam.

“Eversource has more than 2300 miles of transmission rights-of-away in the three states that we operate, more than 600 miles here in Massachusetts. So we have a big stake in making sure that their habitat is protected and we take our role as an environmental steward very seriously,” said Frank Poirot of Eversource.

“Turtles can often get killed by machinery and heavy equipment so our goal is to train their staff as they’re working through these rights-of-way so they can avoid that direct mortality. Pick the animal up and move it to safety and continue on with the project,” said Mass Wildlife Endangered Species Biologist David Paulson.

The Eastern Box turtle and the Wood turtle commonly live and breed along transmission rights-of-way.

Every year Eversource holds the training for those who work along those paths.

Source and Video: WWLP 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Truro scientist finds link between box turtles and power lines

By Lee Roscoe
Banner Correspondent

March 20. 2016

Clarke placed transmitters on the backs of female box turtles and found that they flocked to the cleared areas under the Outer Cape’s power lines during nesting season. Photo courtesy Raymond Clarke

It’s not easy keeping up with box turtles.

Dr. Ray Clarke, a scientist who spent three years tracking the land-roving reptiles through the woods of Truro and Wellfleet, learned that first-hand.

“It’s hard work. You’re out in 80 to 85 degrees, alone. It's fine going through the pine oak forest. But when you enter the wetlands it can become impenetrable. Once I had a fall over muck — the log broke and I started to sink in. Brier can tear right through your jeans. Cell phone service is spotty,” Clarke says.

His study focused on how the right-of-ways around the Outer Cape’s power lines might be affecting the breeding habits and survival of Eastern box turtles, which are listed as a species of special concern in Massachusetts. A Truro resident, he’s received degrees from McGill and Yale universities and taught ecology and “many kinds of biology,” including evolutionary and marine, at Sarah Lawrence College, where he’s now a professor emeritus. He wanted to avoid retirement’s shock with an ongoing science project, so he brainstormed with Robert Cook, Cape Cod National Seashore ecologist, and initiated a study to appease his curiosity about the relationship between power lines and box turtles.

Clarke wasn’t sure he’d find turtles under the lines, but because he knew from the scientific literature that these terrestrial turtles like to nest in open, disturbed places, he guessed he would

He was correct. From 2011 to 2013, in May and June, he captured 18 females under NSTAR/Eversource power line right-of-ways from South Truro to North Wellfleet. As the turtles lay only four to six eggs, the nests were very hard to discover, so he qualifies the accuracy of whether they were nesting or not: "I only saw one turtle laying eggs, but the pattern of females moving to the right-of-way during the nesting season is pretty strong circumstantial support for that view."

With grants from the Cape Cod National Seashore and help from Lori Erb, who was surveying turtles statewide for the Mass. Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Clarke placed radio transmitters on the backs of adult female turtles, tracking them with a radio antenna.

“Each turtle’s ‘ping’ is a separate frequency, so you know who you’re following. My expectation was that when the signal would get loudest you’d be near the turtle. But radio waves bounce off trees and hills, and the terrain was hilly, so it could get frustrating when I couldn’t track them efficiently.”

It was a learning curve. “Using tracking equipment was new to me. I'm not a turtle guy. I’m a fish guy.” Describing years of field work, Clarke said he would scuba dive to do population studies of fishes of coral reefs, asking, “How can so many species, hundreds, exist together?” He wanted to understand how they compete and divide up niches, discovering in the process new information which he has published in scientific journals.

The biologist slogged on for more than three years, following his turtles from spring through November, until they dug into the soil under the leaf litter to hibernate. He found that “over a half to two-thirds came in from pretty far, from over 300 meters, to nest along basically a pretty narrow one-kilometer bandwidth the length of the right-of-way.” (He also placed data loggers in the earth to discover that nest areas were 12 or so degrees warmer than turtle hiding places in the forests.)

Clarke’s study suggests, but doesn't yet prove, "a potential for a significant negative impact of the right-of-ways on the long-term health of this population.” Using the “precautionary principal” Clarke advises, “We should avoid potential harm until we know more”— that is, until we know for sure that adult turtles nesting under lines on right-of-ways, as well as hatchlings, are not being run over by utility trucks or suffering illness or death due to sprayed chemicals such as Glyphosate, which the utility company uses to suppress weeds.

Clarke adds that the right-of-ways are also inviting to raccoons and other predators that dig up and eat eggs.

While the Seashore has the biggest population of box turtles in Massachusetts, Clarke says that because of their ability to attain advanced age — 50 to 80 years and beyond — the turtles may appear to be doing well when in fact, because their rate of reproduction is so slow, any hit to their population has repercussions for a very long time.

Clarke says he may write a memoir of his exploits as a field biologist. He is studying how to do that with Rosalind Pace, and his paper on the box turtle study is currently under peer review for possible publication.

Source: Wicked Local

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Worker's snap decision saves turtle in Billerica

By Rick Sobey,

BILLERICA -- Instead of the chicken crossing the road, why does the turtle cross the road?

Actually, the more appropriate question on Wednesday in Billerica was: Who can help a very large snapping turtle cross the road?

Fred Baker of the Billerica Highway Department was the one to save the day, helping the snapping turtle get across Oak Street.

When he saw the turtle, Baker grabbed a neighbor's recycling bin. The heavy-equipment operator placed the turtle in the container and helped it across the street. He survived getting bit by the snapper, but it was close, said Highway Superintendent Ed Tierney.

Baker later told Tierney that he "did what anyone would do."

With many turtles native to Massachusetts labeled "endangered" and "threatened," it's more important than ever to save them, turtle enthusiasts say. For instance, the Groton Turtle Conservation tries to reduce the high injury and mortality rate of Groton's turtles on roads.

This wasn't the first Billerica Highway Department animal encounter. Last week, the department contacted Animal Control because a cat was stuck up in a tree. Animal Control called the Animal Rescue League of Boston, which came out to save the cat.

"We do come upon these once in a while," Tierney said, adding that employees and police once helped save six ducklings in a catch basin at the corner of Boston and Lasallette roads.

A very large snapping turtle was having a tough time getting across Oak Street in Billerica on Wednesday. He got some help from the Highway Department employee Fred who put him in a container and helped him across the street. SUN/JOHN LOVE

Read more:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New England Aquarium to open new sea turtle hospital exhibit

BOSTON (AP) — The New England Aquarium is opening a new exhibit next week that highlights how it takes care of injured sea turtles.

Visitors to the interactive exhibit that opens Wednesday can learn how injured and endangered turtles are diagnosed, treated, rehabilitated, and then released back into the wild.

Visitors will hear how cold-stunned turtles’ hearts beat slower than healthy turtles after they wash ashore from cold ocean waters. They can see how turtles undergo CT scans, surgery, blood work, X-rays, and treatments with antibiotics, nutrients, and nebulizers. There are simulated respiratory, skeletal, and digestive diagnostic tests that visitors get a chance to try out themselves.

The aquarium last fall took care of more than 700 sea turtles that had stranded in the region.