Saturday, December 13, 2008

Herb the sea turtle heading for warmer sanctuary

Herb the sea turtle heading for warmer sanctuary

12/13/2008, 10:50 a.m. EST The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — His name is Herb, he's 75 pounds with a chestnut brown shell, and when the sea turtle was discovered on a Cape Cod beach earlier in the month, he was very, very cold.

Luckily, the volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay who found Herb alerted officials, who transported him to the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Veterinarians and rescue biologists slowly warmed Herb about five degrees each day. When he was found on the Truro beach on Dec. 3, his body temperature was in the 40s. It's now a stable temperature in the low 70's.

That means Herb is ready to make another voyage — this time to the Riverhead Foundation in Long Island, a nonprofit dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of seals, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

Herb was the largest of the hypothermic sea turtle rescued from Cape Cod during the fall.

Most hypothermic sea turtles found on Cape Cod that survive are discovered before Thanksgiving. Herb's larger size helped protect him. Larger turtles lose heat more slowly than smaller turtles.

Herb is one of six loggerhead turtles that washed up late this season. They averaged about 50 pounds, and all have survived. Herb is still a a relatively young turtle, probably between 4 and 7 years old. As an adult, he will weigh 200 to 250 pounds.

Unfortunately many other sea turtles that wash ashore have not survived.

Rapidly dropping temperatures have caused a high number of endangered sea turtles to wash ashore dead on Cape Cod beaches.

© 2008 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

New Rules Endanger Cape Species

Experts: New rules endanger Cape species

December 13, 2008 6:00 AM

Animal advocates say they are worried about the Bush administration's decision this week to loosen regulations protecting endangered species, including the large whales.

The changes, which would reduce the involvement of federal scientists and block the use of the Endangered Species Act to combat global warming, go into effect in about 30 days and were completed in four months.

They will eliminate some of the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have performed for 35 years on dams, power plants, timber sales and other projects, which developers and other federal agencies have blamed for delays and cost increases.

The rules also prohibit federal agencies from evaluating the effect on endangered species and the places they live from a project's contribution to increased global warming.

Current rules require biologists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to sign off on projects even when it is determined that they are not likely to harm species.

Interior Department officials described the changes as "narrow," but acknowledged that the regulations were controversial inside the agency.

Federal agencies still could seek the expertise of federal wildlife biologists on a voluntary basis, and other parts of the law will ensure that species are protected, they said.

"Nothing in this regulation relieves a federal agency of its responsibilities to ensure that species are not harmed," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in a conference call with reporters.

But others said the federal Act was gutted.

Among the animals in the Cape and Islands region protected under the Endangered Species Act are large whales, sea turtles, plovers, terns and more, said Robert Prescott of the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Wellfleet.

There would be less oversight of local projects, such as the expansion of seaports, construction of outfall pipes and the relocation of international shipping lanes, local advocates for animals said.

"The problem is, we are all working in the endangered species field with a precautionary principle," said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, a whale expert with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. "If you're going to make an error, you should make it on the side of caution. It's very clear that the changes that have been made do not add to the caution."

Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews a year.

In the Northeast, there are about 200 to 300 formal and informal consultations annually, said Teri Frady of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Members of Congress, including Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., sent a letter in early September to Kempthorne and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez objecting to the "weakening" of the long-standing consultative roles of the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

The representatives questioned whether an agency such as the Department of Homeland Security would hire qualified biologists to assess the effects of a project on endangered species.

"The people who are doing the consulting are the same people doing the work," said Jake Levenson of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Yarmouthport. "The review can be less critical."

President-elect Barack Obama has said he would work to review the changes. But because the rule takes effect before he is sworn in, he would have to restart the lengthy rule-making process. A House leader pledged to overturn the regulations using the Congressional Review Act after consulting with other Democratic leaders. The rarely used law allows Congress to review new federal regulations.

In a related development, the Interior Department also finalized Thursday a special rule for the polar bear, a species that was listed as threatened in May because of global warming. The rule would allow oil and gas exploration in areas where the bears live, as long as the companies comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Blitz for Bog Turtles

Massachusetts: A Blitz for Bog Turtles

By Kate Frazer

"Just look for the places you’d go if you were a turtle," explains restoration specialist Angela Sirois as she leads the group deeper into the wetland. Surveying the maze of small streams, mounds of matted vegetation and twisted trees in the muddy valley, the task of finding a tiny bog turtle seems easier said than done.

Luckily, we have technology on our side.

Sirois is using her telemetry kit to track turtles whose shells have been outfitted with small radio transmitters. She walks carefully, pointing the giant antenna toward the ground to pick up a signal. It’s like she’s taking the pulse of the land.

Before long, the series of beeps gets faster and louder. Her hand disappears into a subterranean tunnel, then emerges with a squirming turtle.

A Familiar Face

The turtle stretches out its neck and grasps Sirois’ finger with its tiny scaled hand. The location of a small notch in its shell reveals its identity.

"This is L4R1," says Sirois. “She’s especially exciting to find because we’ve been tracking her since 1990, when she was just a hatchling. She’s 18-years-old now. We’ve followed her to a nest and have watched her lay eggs. The fact that she’s been recruited into the breeding population is a good sign that this wetland is providing the right habitat.”

Researchers – many sponsored by The Nature Conservancy – have been studying the movements of the threatened bog turtle in the Berkshires’ calcium rich wetlands for nearly three decades. This region is one of the few places on Earth with the long-term data necessary for understanding the habitat needs of these long-lived creatures.

Protecting Turtles, Protecting Wetlands

After weighing and measuring the turtle and inspecting her shell and her radio, we return L4R1 to the mucky tunnel and continue our search.

"This is a perfect world for bog turtles," says Sirois. The wetland unfolds at the foot of a mountain. The streams run down the rocky slopes collecting calcium, then braid through tall grasses in the valley. During a time of year called spring emergence, turtles use these rivulets like roads as they cruise around in search of mates and nesting areas.

But development in and around wetlands like this one has left the bog turtle population extremely fragmented. The two distinct populations of bog turtles in the Eastern U.S. are separated by a 250-mile gap, with Northern bog turtles occurring in fewer than 200 sites in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The fact that these populations cannot mix, decreases their genetic variability and, potentially, the longevity of the species.

Small Creatures, Big Hopes

"What we learn about bog turtles here can help us protect the wetlands they use throughout the entire region," explains Sirois. "We’re finding that maintaining the right hydrology and diverse native plant communities is essential."

That is why the Conservancy couples its research efforts with restoration projects. For years, the tri-state Berkshire Taconic Landscape program has deployed teams of interns each summer to control invasive plants like Phragmites that invade bog turtle habitat and destroy basking and nesting areas.

Sirois, who began her conservation career as an intern in this program, admits that tackling invasives is monotonous work. "It has taken years of control by intern crews to create the kind of wetland that bog turtles seek for nesting," she explains. "This kind of work is never really done. But each year, it gets easier to maintain the open habitat these turtles need."

With her eyes still scanning the ground for turtles, Angela points out a group of nice hummocks that once was a patch of Phragmites. "We recently found a bog turtle nesting here," she says. "While it’s not direct proof, it is one very hopeful sign that our restoration work is making a real difference."

Kate Frazer is a Nature Conservancy conservation writer based in Boston.
Photo © Tony Gola/MassWildlife (Bog Turtle)


Acquisition of two properties facilitates the connection of the Taconic and Rudd Pond State Parks

The Nature Conservancy’s Mount Riga Land Acquisition Completes the South Taconic Trail along the Berkshire Taconic Ridge

Albany, NY — December 10, 2008 — Today The Nature Conservancy's Eastern New York Chapter announces the acquisition of 621 acres along the Berkshire Taconic Ridge. The land exchange will fill in a long sought missing piece of the South Taconic Trail between these popular sections of New York's Taconic State Park at Copake Falls and Rudd Pond, providing the alignment for an estimated five miles of new, public trails, and expanding the park by some 250 acres. The proposed trail route traverses high elevations along the western side of the ridge offering spectacular views of the Harlem Valley and the Catskill Mountains in the distance.

The transaction, which involves New York State, The Nature Conservancy and a private corporation, results in the permanent conservation of 621 acres along the New York State side of the Berkshire Taconic Ridge. “The Nature Conservancy was interested in brokering this deal because it will protect the Taconic Ridge’s intact, healthy forests along the Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York border. The Mount Riga properties, the largest remaining private holdings available for development within the Berkshire Taconic landscape, are very important to conserve,” explains Katie Dolan, executive director of the Conservancy’s Eastern New York Chapter (ENY).

“This deal represents one of the most complicated transactions ever undertaken by the ENY Chapter and marks the completion of a project that began nearly thirty years ago,” says Mark King, director of land protection programs. “New York State has, for many years, wanted to extend the Taconic trail system and sought to purchase missing link parcels along the Ridge. The Conservancy was interested in helping out, since the wetlands at the base of the Ridge include habitats for bog turtles and other rare species.”

The success of the project resulted from the willingness of the three parties, The Nature Conservancy, Mount Riga Incorporated and New York State Parks, to stay engaged long enough to craft an exchange of interests that met each of their goals.

“The key leverage making this multi-faceted deal come together was a generous donation of a 320 acre property along the ridge to the Conservancy in 2003. Mount Riga Inc. wanted to acquire part of the lands donated and as a result, agreed to encumber a portion of their property with conservation easements and sell other lands to New York State. In exchange the Conservancy conveyed a portion of the donated property, restricted by a conservation easement, to Mount Riga,” adds King.

"Since the end of the 19th century, the families that own Mount Riga Incorporated have protected over 4,000 acres of the Berkshire Taconic Plateau. We continue to believe that responsible private ownership is an important part of land conservation. We are pleased to cooperate with our neighbors, the ENY Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and New York State Office of Parks and Recreation who understand that our intense and locally focused interest in Mount Riga contributes to the protection of a larger ecosystem," says spokesman Robert O'Brien. "Enhanced recreational opportunities for hikers and conservation of environmentally significant land offer benefits that will continue for centuries into the future."

"The Nature Conservancy will continue to look at other property easements along the New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut borders,” adds Dolan, “to complete its overall forest block preservation goal of 30,000 protected in the Berkshire Taconic landscape.”

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. The Eastern New York Chapter (ENY), the Conservancy’s first chapter, owns and manages 43 nature preserves, encompassing over 15,000 acres. ENY works across six landscape-scale sites from the Catskills to the Berkshires and from the Hudson River to the shores of Lake Champlain. To learn more, visit


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turtle Journal

Dozens of cold-stunned turtles wash up

WELLFLEET — Russell and Kerry Barton of Concord, N.H., count themselves lucky to have been part of an effort to save at least 30 cold-stunned sea turtles on Cape Cod beaches over the weekend.

"It was an amazing experience," Kerry Barton said yesterday about finding a 60-pound loggerhead Sunday morning at Point of Rocks Beach on Cape Cod Bay in Brewster. Barton was on a patrol with Don Lewis, a volunteer with the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The New Hampshire couple, who won the opportunity to go on patrol with Lewis during a silent auction earlier this year, were among dozens of volunteers who found turtles on Cape beaches over the weekend.

The stranding season, which lasts from shortly before Halloween until mid-December, is in full swing, Dennis Murley, teacher and naturalist at the sanctuary, said as he checked for life in some of the turtles yesterday.

The cold-blooded reptiles were hit hard by a cold snap over the weekend, Murley said. There have been 42 stranded sea turtles reported on the Cape so far this season, he said.

The turtles that survive will be rehabilitated at the New England Aquarium in Boston before being transferred to other rehab facilities and eventually reintroduced into the ocean.

"Hopefully this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip" for the turtles, Murley said.

Last year, 39 turtles were reported stranded on the Cape. The most reported in a single year came in 1999, when almost 300 turtles washed up on area beaches.

This weekend a rapid drop in air temperatures, combined with offshore waters in the upper 40s, made for an unusual mix that stunned a large number of different types of turtles that would not normally have stranded at the same time, Murley said.

As temperatures fall and the animals' heart rate and body temperature drops, they become immobile. Floating on the surface to breathe, they are at the mercy of winds that blow them to shore. Once on shore, they can freeze to death.

Video: Stunned turtles packed for transport in Wellfleet

Those that survive until they can be driven to rehab in Boston have an 80 to 90 percent chance of continued survival, Murley said.

At the sanctuary yesterday, Murley and field assistant Emily Goczalk placed three live Kemp's ridley turtles in banana boxes donated by Super Stop & Shop in Orleans for the ride to Boston. In another box, four not-so-lucky dead turtles were being shipped so that researchers could perform necropsies on the foot-long animals.

Usually between 10 and 20 percent of the turtles that arrive at the New England Aquarium are dead, aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said. This year that ratio has jumped to more than 60 percent, he said.

All of the turtles sent to the aquarium come from the Cape, he said.

The turtles at the sanctuary yesterday were juveniles, Goczalk said. "At this age they're just going where the Gulf Stream takes them," she said.

Most Kemp's ridley turtles — 95 percent — are born on a single beach in Mexico, Goczalk said. They are the most critically endangered sea turtle, although all seven species of sea turtle are on the federal endangered species list, she said. Kemp's ridleys also make up the majority of sea turtles that strand on Cape beaches.

While the other turtles were sent to Boston, the loggerhead turtle found by the Bartons was kept in Wellfleet until sanctuary officials could determine if it was alive or dead, not always an easy task with turtles.

"We've hit some — I call Lazarus turtles — that pop back to life the last couple of days," he said.


What to do if you spot a stranded sea turtle

  • Move the turtle above the high-tide line
  • Cover it with dry seaweed or eelgrass to protect the animal from wind
  • Mark the spot with beach debris, such as a lobster buoy
  • Call the Cape Cod Sea Turtle Stranding Network at 508-349-2615
  • If possible, note time, tide, wind direction and speed, and water temperature

    Source: Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Monday, November 24, 2008

30 Stunned Turtles Stranded on Cape Cod Shore

Chris Boardman

WELLFLEET - Cold air temperatures and still-warm offshore water temperatures over the weekend stunned and stranded at least 30 turtles on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, including a 60-pound loggerhead, according to officials with the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The annual turtle stranding season, which lasts from shortly before Halloween until Christmas, is in full swing, Dennis Murley, teacher and naturalist at the sanctuary, said this morning. There have been 42 stranded sea turtles reported to the sanctuary so far this season, he said.

Video: Stunned turtles packed for transport in Wellfleet

The number of turtles found by volunteers and staff over the weekend is not unheard of, but a cold snap combined with still-warm offshore waters in the bay have made for a potentially lethal mix that has stunned a large number of different species that would not normally be found together, he said.

While many of the turtles may die from the experience, those that survive until they can be driven to the New England Aquarium in Boston have about a 80 to 90 percent chance of survival, Murley said. Most of these turtles were found in Brewster.

"Hopefully this is a once in a lifetime trip," Murley said.

At the sanctuary this morning Murley and field assistant Emily Goczalk boxed up three live green and Kemp's Ridley turtles in banana boxes - donated by Stop and Shop in Orleans - for the ride to Boston. In another box four not-so-lucky turtles were being shipped so that researchers could perform necropsies on the roughly foot-long animals.

Another staff member, science coordinator Mark Faherty, stacked the boxes in his car for the trip to Boston.

The larger loggerhead turtle was being kept at the Wellfleet sanctuary until it could be determined whether it was alive or dead, not always an easy task with turtles, sanctuary officials said.

Although this year's strandings are not unusual, the number of turtles found on area beaches appears to be on the rise, Murley said. The increasing numbers are actually a good sign, he said, adding that it could be proof of efforts to protect the turtles' nesting beaches in southern climates.

Most Kemp's Ridley turtles - 95 percent - are born on a single beach in Mexico, Goczalk said. The Kemp's Ridley turtles are the most critically endangered sea turtle, although all seven species are on the federal endangered species list, she said.

Anyone who finds a sea turtle stranded on a beach at this time of year should move it above the high tide line and cover it with eel grass or beach grass, Murley said. A marker such as a lobster buoy should be placed near the turtle and the location should be noted, he said. The sanctuary can be contacted at 508-349-2615.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Marion Residents Voice Concerns Over Proposed Ball Field

Marion Residents Voice Concerns Over Proposed Ball Field

When the Marion Recreation Committee filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the town's Conservation Commission (ConCom) to construct a baseball field on town-owned land within the boundaries of Washburn Park back in February 2007, they probably didn't anticipate such a project would meet with any resistance from residents.

But a small and vocal group of abutters have expressed concern over the precise location of a proposed Little League field in the easterly corner of the park closest to Route 6. And for nearly two years now, they have been after the ConCom to at least consider an alternate plan ... going so far as to hire their own attorney to represent them in appeal hearings.

According to resident Laura Kay Coggeshall, this specific area is a pristine natural habitat for the endangered eastern box turtle -- a species that previously created similar concerns for the Little Neck Village expansion project -- and it also contains a walking trail that is frequently used by local residents.

"It's used for passive recreation right now," Ms. Coggeshall said. "People jog there, they walk their dogs there, other people use it for horseback riding and Tabor Academy uses it for track meets. We tried to get them to consider alternate areas during all the hearings before the ConCom, and they had an excuse for everything."

Ms. Coggeshall said she and fellow abutters like Anne Converse are not just concerned about the invasion of privacy that the new ball field will create, but also about the potential destruction of the natural habitat, the pollution of the existing wetlands area, and the fact that an open recreational area will be relegated to "selective recreational use" for just those who play baseball.

"Do we absolutely need another ball field to be used a few hours a year by a select few Marion residents, or would it be better to preserve our wetlands and endangered species, and keep this land available for all Marion residents to use for passive recreation?" Ms. Coggeshall said. "It's not about denying anybody anything, it's about protecting the wildlife and the wetlands. Right now, as it stands, it's available to everybody and the wetlands and box turtle are protected. People can still use it for passive recreation."

But William Washburn of the Marion Recreation Committee said they have been looking to replace the ball field that was lost when Sippican School expanded a few years ago and their programs have expanded to a point where another field is needed.

"The main reason we chose that site is it's land that the town owns already," Mr. Washburn said. "It's land that's contiguous to the park, so it would provide an existing rest room and parking. If we were to go around town and find another site to put a Little League field in, we'd have to buy a piece big enough for parking and facilities -- that would require maybe two to three acres. That's why we ended up at Washburn Park. As our programs grow, we need to expand and now is the time to do it. From the Recreation Committee's point of view, it's a win-win situation."

What's more disconcerting to Ms. Coggeshall is that an alternative site within Washburn Park was proposed by none other than ConCom Vice Chairman Jeffrey Oakes -- one of two ConCom members, along with Bruce Hebbel, who voted against the original NOI and a professional engineer by trade -- that would have a minimum impact on the habitat and wetlands.

But Mr. Washburn said Mr. Oakes' alternate plan would venture into adjacent property that is not town-owned and would cost significantly more to implement.

"His alternate location put us onto the Washburn Park Trust land, and we would have to add another road and put in additional parking," Mr. Washburn said. "It also would have created a situation where parents would have to park along the road. That was the issue we had with that (proposal)."

As for the environmental concerns raised by Ms. Coggeshall, Mr. Washburn noted they have been working closely with John Rockwell, Wetlands Specialist for the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program (NEP), who provided both technical assistance to the Recreation Committee and helped them with the permitting process.

While Mr. Rockwell declined comment on the issue, he noted: "The Recreation Committee has determined that the town needs a ball field and this is the site they've chosen."

But Ms. Coggeshall questions why Mr. Rockwell, a member of the town's Open Space Acquisition Committee and a Wetlands Specialist with the NEP, wouldn't be more concerned and protective of the wetlands site being targeted for the ball field -- a location where polluted runoff from pesticides used to grow the grass could potentially enter Buzzards Bay.

"(Mr. Rockwell) has been lax and casual in his response to the legal responsibilities involved in the protection and conservation of the wetlands," Ms. Coggeshall said. "During a January 2 hearing with the Department of Environmental Protection, Mr. Rockwell's plans were incomplete. They had not yet determined where the swale was going to be located to handle the runoff so it wouldn't enter Buzzards Bay. He then admitted that a swale would not handle it, it would have to be a pond area. That proves to me if we didn't contend this, it would have been designed with a swale and the wetlands wouldn't have been protected."

"I can understand their concerns," Mr. Washburn said. "I remember as a child growing up we had a lot behind us in the woods ... but they eventually built two houses and they still stand there today. Yeah, there's box turtles all over Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. If you want to go looking for box turtles, you better not build any more houses in southeastern Massachusetts."

Despite their opposition, two formal appeals and an alternate proposal, the original 3-2 ConCom vote stands and the Little League field project is set to move forward on the acre-and-a-half of wetlands as initially proposed.

But Ms. Coggeshall still thinks there are other options to consider.

"Building a ball field for children to use is a great idea so long as one is needed," Ms. Coggeshall said. "But destroying a necessary habitat for an endangered species ... to do so is irresponsible, especially when there are alternatives. It is extremely close to wetlands and even with the proposed drainage solution for the run off, it's still a threat to the surrounding wetlands and Buzzards Bay."

By Kenneth J. Souza


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Walk to save the turtles on Cape Cod

By Tim Jones

South Wellfleet, Mass. -
A long walk on a deserted Cape Cod beach is a nice pastime. And in late November and early December while you walk you may also be able to help save an endangered species.

Most years, with the first real cold snap, endangered Kemp's Ridley, Green and Leatherback sea turtles wash up on the shores of Cape Cod Bay in significant numbers. When the water reaches 50 degrees, these sub-tropical creatures, which drifted north with the Gulf Stream in the summer, go into "cold shock." Still alive but comatose, they eventually wash up on bay beaches from Dennis to Truro, where they would freeze to death if humans didn't help.

A dedicated network of naturalists and volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in South Wellfleet, working with the New England Aquarium in Boston, rescues these stranded turtles, rehabilitates them, and releases them the following fall south of Cape Cod to continue their natural migration.

The search itself requires walking along the high tide line of a beach as soon as the water starts receding. Since most turtles strand in cold, windy weather and especially during strong storms at night, this sometimes requires more dedication than strolling on a sunny afternoon. Bring waterproof footwear, raingear, warm clothes and a bright headlamp or flashlight.

If you find a stranded sea turtle, do not put it back in the water or remove it from the beach. Move it above the high tide line (most turtles are small), cover it with seaweed to insulate it from the wind, mark its location with beach debris to make it easy to find. And call the Audubon Center at 508-349-2615. The phone is checked 24/7 during turtle stranding season.

Any turtle you find will be taken to a holding facility where it will be warmed slowly (5 degrees per day) until it is active. It will then be fed, rehabilitated and, eventually, released.

On Nov. 15 and 29, the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary ( hosts a two-hour "Sea Turtle 911" program ($10 per person) explaining why turtles strand and how they can be saved. Also sign up for naturalist-led walks and activities for kids.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Kemp's ridley turtle found stranded

BARNSTABLE — The first cold-stunned Kemp's ridley turtle of the stranding season was rescued in local waters yesterday, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The eight-pound turtle, which is about four years old, was found by two people walking along Sandy Neck Beach at around 2 p.m. yesterday, sanctuary director Robert Prescott said. The marine reptile was being taken to the New England Aquarium for rehabilitation last night, he said.

The turtle had an old boat propeller wound on its left front flipper, which likely weakened the animal, Prescott said. The turtle was driven to shore by high winds and the dropping water temperature, he added.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded, so their body temperatureis regulated by their environment. Late every fall, some wash up on shore when they become hypothermic after a sudden temperature drop, or if they have failed to migrate south before winter conditions arrive here. "This is the time of year" for local turtle strandings, Prescott said.

Kemp's ridley turtles are on the federal endangered species list, and no one but an authorized agent can handle them under federal law. Prescott asked that people call the sanctuary at 508-349-2615 if they see a distressed turtle.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Graduate student partners with National Geographic on turtle study

by Cindy Weiss - October 20, 2008

In an era of high-tech science, a biology graduate student is using an advanced instrument and decidedly low-tech adaptations to yield new data and excite youngsters about a creature that antedates technology, the turtle.

Tobias Landberg, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, is collecting data from turtles that swim and surface along Connecticut’s waterways. He spent this past summer working with National Geographic on a project using the “Crittercam,” a $10,000 video camera that is attached to the back of snapping turtles to track their travels.

Although Landberg’s doctoral research focuses on a different species – salamanders – he wrote his master’s thesis on turtles at the University of Massachusetts before coming to UConn to study for his Ph.D. When National Geographic was looking for a turtle expert to work on the project, they turned to UConn and Landberg was a natural choice.

Landberg has long been interested in how turtles breathe when moving. But the Crittercam can capture more – where they go, how long they stay, when and where they surface. And it does it all without human intervention, once the camera is attached.

“Sort of like old school naturalists,” says Landberg, “we’re observing individuals of the species to see what they do.”

The project was launched during the summer on the Connecticut River by National Geographic, with the help of Landberg, Riverfront Recapture, and 10 teenagers from Hartford public schools, who were recruited by the “Our Piece of the Pie” organization for summer career-building work.

The high school students got hands-on field experience in biology and the excitement of scientific discovery. For their first specimen, they trapped the Godzilla of snapping turtles, a 39-pound creature that was missing its lower jaw.

How does a snapping turtle reach that size when it’s missing a mandible? Landberg and the students set to work to find out. They attached the Crittercam with duct tape to a papier-mache-type rig that would hold the camera on the turtle’s back for about two hours and then dissolve, sending the camera back to the surface for data collection.

“Nature provided the question, and we had the apparatus to answer it,” Landberg says.

“Jawless,” as they named the turtle, deployed around the bottom of Wethersfield Cove for two hours before being recaptured. The next day it took only 20 minutes for the paper rig to dissolve and the camera to bob up. The camera was sent to Washington, D.C., where National Geographic recovered the footage, which Landberg is still studying.

eanwhile, another Crittercam was attached to a smaller, 24-pounder on Shenipsit Lake near Rockville, to provide another set of data.

Landberg says he became involved in the Crittercam project because of its outreach potential.

“This is probably my favorite part of the whole business – teaching people what science really is, solving problems,” he says.

But it is also generating some very interesting data, he says.

“I’m really interested in what the future of this technology is going to allow us to do – outreach combined with long-term ecological data collection,” he adds.

Landberg, who has been a Schwenk Mentoring Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and has mentored eight UConn undergraduates, is now supervising an independent study on the turtle data by another undergraduate.

Landberg dropped out of high school at the age of 17, and tried his hand at carpentry, painting, general contracting, and restoring old houses. He also traveled, and a trip to Costa Rica revived his early interest in biology. He earned his GED high school equivalency and later a master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts before coming to UConn.

His hands-on construction skills have served him well. In earlier experiments in the lab, he created masks to learn more about how turtles breathe.

Turtles at rest can breathe by moving a shoulder girdle in and out of the shell and moving their limbs. But Landberg wanted to know how they breathe when they are in motion.

He attached the masks to the mouths of box turtles, using surgical adhesive that stuck to their tough skin without hurting them, then had them walk on a treadmill and measured their breathing.

He filmed their exercise routines and was surprised to learn that they took small breaths very rapidly and that their breathing had no relationship to what their feet were doing.

Landberg’s Ph.D. research, funded by a National Science Foundation doctoral dissertation grant, is on the effects of the environment on salamander development. But he’s still fascinated by turtles.

“The natural behavior of these animals in the wild is still a mystery,” he says.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Bright fall colors: Top 10 walks
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Eagle

Thursday, October 09
Flaming fall colors — crimson, red, yellow, scarlet, bronze, orange — bright sunshine and invigorating, cool breezes, make a stroll in the woods all the more alluring in these final weeks of the early fall.

No need to go for a long drive: There are scores of walks and hikes anywhere in the Berkshires. Here's my subjective list of the top-10 fall-foliage treks, arranged in increasing order of difficulty.

  • Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield. This is the easiest walk on the list and one of the most scenic. The 262-acre Massachusetts Audubon Society reservation sits near a quiet residential area five minutes from Park Square.

The Housatonic River runs by swamps, marshland, open fields and forested areas. The marsh has an observation deck to look for waterfowl: red-winged blackbirds and kingfishers on the tree branches over the water, Canada geese and mallard ducks.

Sightings of nesting turtles, muskrat and beaver are a good bet, especially early or late in the day. Naturalists report seeing deer drinking from the pond. Coyote and red fox are known to be in the woods, but are rarely seen in daylight.

  • Benedict Pond, Beartown State Forest, Great Barrington and Monterey. A level trail around the pond offers glimpses of salamanders and a beaver lodge still under construction. Azalea and mountain laurel flourish along this easy walk.

  • Field Farm, Williamstown. Four different hiking cross 296 acres. The North Trail passes through a cow pasture, with stunning views of Mount Greylock to the east. You'll enter a cluster of sugar maples, ideal for impressive foliage.

  • Roaring Brook Road, Woods Pond and Housatonic River, Lee and Lenox. The pond and riverfront scenic views, under a deep canopy of trees on the edge of October Mountain State Forest, make this easy walk one of the county's most rewarding.

Start at the bottom of Housatonic Street in Lenox Dale, park near the footbridge across the Housatonic, and take the dirt road, bearing left, following the shoreline. There's a modest climb along the way. Continue to the beginning of Roaring Brook Road's paved portion, where you'll see houses on the hillside.

  • Monument Mountain, Great Barrington. These trails are popular with hikers, 20,000 a year on the 503-acre property. Three miles of trails wind through a white pine and oak forest with mountain laurel, hemlock, maple and birch. The white cliffs are composed of pure quartzite hundreds of millions of years old. Hawks and vultures are spotted from the summit.

Hikers have a choice of a strong, steep route, the Hickey Trail or a longer, more gradual one, the Indian Monument Trail.

  • Finerty Pond Trail, October Mountain State Forest, Becket and Washington. The route to the pond lies entirely along the Appalachian Trail. This moderate hike is especially colorful, passing ash, maple, hemlock, beech, red spruce and balsam fir trees and many rare wildflowers. Here are marshlands and abandoned beaver ponds and plenty of wildlife.

n Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox. For a hike to the summit of Lenox Mountain, choose either the Overbrook Trail along a mountain stream, deep into a Northern hardwood forest, or the more challenging, rocky Trail of the Ledges. Either way, the reward is a stunning view west over Richmond toward New York state, and north toward Pittsfield.

The sanctuary, maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, includes 1,450 acres and 10 more trails circling beaver ponds, along cattail marshes and ravines filled with fresh mountain streams and waterfalls. There are boardwalks and benches along the way. The best times to look for beavers are shortly after dawn or shortly before dusk. The beavers are used to humans and are likely to greet hikers with a slap of the tail and a dive under water.

  • Tyringham Cobble. Another Trustees of Reservation property, 206 acres of pastures, woodlands and a moderately steep hike up the Cobble, where the path intersects with the Appalachian Trail.

A paradise for bird watchers, the Cobble is a promontory on a plateau; there's a glacial remnant near the eastern slope. The year-round aviary includes red-tailed hawk, ruffled grouse, pileated woodpecker, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird and a dozen other species.

The summit is nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, and the entire area is home to coyote (rarely seen but easily heard at night), red fox, white-tailed deer and porcupine.

  • Pine Cobble Trail, Williamstown. This especially well-traveled, moderate hike heads through a hardwood forest filled with red maple, white oak, ash and hickory trees, to the summit of Pine Cobble (1,893 feet), where there's a rocky quartzite limestone promontory on the southern edge of East Mountain and a great view of the Hoosac Valley, the Taconic range and Vermont's Green Mountains.

The path is well-maintained by the Wiliams Outing Club.

  • Gorge Trail and Felton Lake, October Mountain State Forest, Lee. The most challenging hike on the list, the steep trail follows a waterfall one mile upstream to a mountain lake.

Coyote, deer and bear tracks are visible around the lake, near the mysterious secret remains of the former Scout Camp for the United Nations (at the site of the William Whitney estate).

Any walk or hike (and there are many more options) leads to a bracing, healthy outing through the colors of autumn, and it's all free.

If you go ...

1. Canoe Meadows:

The entrance is on Holmes Road, Pittsfield, just north and east of Pomeroy Avenue.

Walk: 1.2 miles, 30-45 minutes.

2. Benedict Pond:

From Route 7 south, take Monument Valley Road, just south of Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington. Make a left on Stony Brook Road and follow 2.8 miles to Benedict Pond Road. A left turn leads to the parking area. Walk: 1.5-mile loop, 1 hour.

3. Field Farm:

In Williamstown, turn onto Route 43 westbound from the intersection at Route 7, then take a hard right on Sloan Road, just over a mile to the entrance. Take a right on the driveway to the parking area. Elevation gain: 100 feet. Walk: 2.5-mile loop trail, 2 hours or less.

4. Roaring Brook Road: From Route 7 south, take a left onto Housatonic Street in Lenox and follow it into Lenox Dale. Walk: 4 miles round trip, 100-120 minutes.

5. Monument Mountain: The ample parking area on the west side of Route 7 is 3 miles south of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and 3 miles north of the Route 7-23 intersection (Belcher Square) in Great Barrington. Walk: moderate 2.5-mile loop, 2-3 hours.

6. Finerty Pond Trail: From Route 20 east of Lee, make a diagonal left on Becket Road. A small Appalachian Trail sign and parking area are about two miles uphill, but sharp eyes are needed to find it. Walk: 3.2 miles, 3 hours.

7. Pleasant Valley Sanctuary: Start at West Dugway Road, off the west side of Route 7-20 in Lenox (follow the easily visible signs to West Mountain Road and the sanctuary parking area). Open Tuesday through Sunday. There's a modest admission fee for non-MAS members. Walk: 3 miles, 2 hours. Sanctuary periphery hike: 2.1-mile loop, flat to rolling terrain.

8. Tyringham Cobble: Take Tyringham Road, off Route 102 just west of the MassPike interchange; it's a gorgeous 4-mile ride to the center of the village; a right turn on Jerusalem Road is followed immediately by the parking area on the right. Walk: moderate 2-mile loop, 2 hours or less.

9. Pine Cobble: From the Route 2 and 7 intersection in Williamstown, head east, make a left on Cole Ave.(less than a mile), then a right on North Hoosic Road, 0.4 mile to Pine Cobble Road. A left turn leads immediately to the parking area. Walk: 3.2 miles, 3 hours.

10. Gorge Trail and Felton Lodge, October Mountain: The trailhead is marked along Roaring Brook Road, which is accessible from New Lenox Road in Lenox or from Lenox Dale. Walk: 4.5 miles, 3-4 hours.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Summer Saving America’s Turtles

October 10, 2008

"A Summer Saving America’s Turtles"
Jared Nourse ‘11 and "The voice of the mountain: a history of Mount Greylock" Leah Katzelnick '10 Noon time.

The Log, Spring Street, Williamstown, 413-597-2346, Environmental Studies Log Lunch. Vegetarian meal prepared by student cooks: $4. Reservations required.
email: szepk (@)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Turtle discussion

Townsend, Massachusetts

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008, 7:00pm
Memorial Hall, Selectmen's chambers. Special meeting of the Conservation Commission to discuss turtles.

Source: Townsend posting board

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another dead turtle surfaces on SouthCoast

Another dead turtle surfaces on SouthCoast

September 17, 2008 6:00 AM

The reports of dead leatherback turtles in SouthCoast has continued to rise with one reported at Salters Point in Dartmouth on Sunday.

Tony LaCasse, media relations director for the New England Aquarium in Boston, said staff from Mass Audubon in Wellfleet Bay were notified but the turtle was so decomposed they will get almost no data by examining it.

"It is like a piece of tissue. It's probably been floating around for weeks," Mr. LaCasse said.

Three leatherback deaths have been reported on SouthCoast's beaches so far this month. They include a 600-pound leatherback removed from Pico Beach in Mattapoisett on Sept. 9.

A decomposed leatherback was still lying on the sand at East Beach in Westport on Saturday after being reported about a week earlier. The highway surveyor said he wasn't aware of it and would make sure it was removed.

Mr. LaCasse said they had photographs of the East Beach turtle but could not say for sure how much it weighed because it was already so decomposed.

There were 14 confirmed deaths of leatherbacks in Massachusetts waters this season and 14 reports of sightings of dead leatherbacks in coastal waters. Mr. LaCasse said the number of offshore sightings can't be confirmed because boaters could be reporting the same turtle.

"This has been an exceptional year for dead leatherbacks," Mr. LaCasse said.

He said the sightings are "probably the highest that we're aware of ever." Many of the dead sea turtles have been too decomposed by the time they reach shore for the New England Aquarium or Mass Audubon to determine the cause of death.

When they have been able to make a determination, there are often signs that the leatherback has been hit by a sea vessel. Mr. LaCasse said it is impossible to tell if the vessel hit the turtle before or after it was dead.

Leatherback turtles are considered endangered in the Atlantic Ocean so it is "of great concern" when they wash up dead here, Mr. LaCasse said.

In July, a 500-pound female that was tagged from West Trinidad was found dead on Cuttyhunk Island. Dead leatherbacks were also found in July at Popponesset Beach in Mashpee and Ricketson's Point in Dartmouth.

Dead leatherbacks should be reported to the New England Aquarium at (617) 973-5200. A sick or injured turtle should be reported to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies at 1-800-900-3622.

They can weigh from several hundred pounds to a ton. Because of the the turtles' size, Mr. LaCasse said, "boaters are often surprised when they see them." The turtles may have come to SouthCoast waters this season to feed on sea jellies. Mr. LaCasse said a majority of them have already moved south and east with the change of weather.

In July, a 500-pound female that was tagged from West Trinidad was found dead on Cuttyhunk Island. Dead leatherbacks were also found in July at Popponesset Beach in Mashpee and Ricketson's Point in Dartmouth.

Dead leatherbacks should be reported to the New England Aquarium at (617) 973-5200. A sick or injured turtle should be reported to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies at 1-800-900-3622.

The New England Aquarium does not remove the dead turtles. Mr. LaCasse said removal is the responsibility of the property owner, which, at beaches, is often the town.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Housing plan would protect rare turtles

By Shawn Regan

HAVERHILL — A developer is offering special protections for a habitat of the endangered Blanding's turtle to help win approval of his eight-home project on Corliss Hill Road.

Zennon Mierzwa has been seeking approval for his Fieldstone Meadows development since the mid-1990s. The land is off Route 110 near the Merrimac town line.

The city originally opposed the project, but it was approved by the state Land Court. Mierzwa must still secure local and state wetland approvals and have his latest plan reviewed by the Planning Board, Economic Development Director William Pillsbury said.

During a recent review by the Conservation Commission, a population of Blanding's turtles was documented in the East Meadow River corridor, according to a letter to the City Council from Robert Moore, Haverhill's environmental health technician.

The rear section of Mierzwa's property abuts the East Meadow corridor.

After working with state conservation officials and the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Mierzwa agreed to place a permanent building restriction on the back 15 acres of his 24-acre property, Moore said. The homes are planned on the front portion of the land.

The Blanding's turtle is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic animal with a dark olive shell and irregular pale yellow spots, according to the Center for Amphibian and Reptile Management. It's most distinguishing feature is its bright yellow chin and throat.

The turtles' range is concentrated in the Great Lakes region and extends from southern Ontario west including Michigan, Wisconsin, northern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, southern Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Isolated populations are also found in New York, Nova Scotia and from southern Maine to Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, according to the Amphibian and Reptile Management's Web site. The Blanding's turtle is listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern in almost every state where it is found.

The species is considered to be especially sensitive to the loss of wetland habitats where it lives. The restriction on the Corliss Hill land has been endorsed by the Conservation Commission and City Council.

Source: The Eagle-Tribune

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Learn about turtle reintroduction

There will be a special presentation on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. about establishing a population of Blanding's turtles at Assabet River NWR.

Come learn about how the reintroduction of Blanding's turtles to Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge has progressed so far, what’s been learned, what can still be learned and how experiences so far will impact work in the coming year. Dr. Kurt Buhlmann and Dr. Tracey Tuberville will discuss turtle reintroductions, including the recent work on the reintroduction of Blanding's to Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is in the towns of Maynard, Stow, Sudbury and Hudson.

The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. at the Great Meadows NWR Headquarters on Weir Hill Road in Sudbury. For more information, contact or 978 443-4661 extension 34 or check the Friends of Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge website .

This meeting is sponsored by the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Friends of Assabet River NWR.

Source: Wicked Local

Friday, August 29, 2008

Boaters, beware! Steer clear of booming -- and rare -- leatherback turtles

A New England Aquarium expert tended to a stranded leatherback that washed up on Nauset Beach in Orleans in 2005.

Turtle influx prompts advisory

Turtle influx prompts advisory

Boaters warned of risks posed to endangered reptile

Federal officials are cautioning boaters in the waters off Massachusetts to keep a sharp lookout, because leatherback turtles, among the world's largest reptiles, have arrived in record numbers.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued the warning in an attempt to protect the endangered animals, which can grow to be 6 1/2 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds.

The turtles have been spotted swimming in Nantucket and Vineyard sounds.

Reports of dead, stranded, or injured turtles are also setting records.

"It is probably the second-busiest year in the 20 to 30 years that I have been watching the leatherback," said Bob Prescott, director of Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

He said people are reporting seeing 10 to 12 of the endangered animals at one time, which is "unheard-of in Massachusetts."

The reason for the leatherback explosion is an increase in the jellyfish population, said Prescott.

The leatherback migrates through Massachusetts waters each year, but is staying longer this year because there are more jellyfish on which to feed.

Prescott said the reptiles are mostly concentrated to the south of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, which means they are out of major shipping lanes, but they have been sighted elsewhere, as well, and it is important for boaters to be careful.

The turtles can be killed when they are struck by a boat's propellers or caught in fishing lines.

The Coast Guard has been broadcasting regular reminders to boaters asking them to use caution and reduce speeds in areas where turtles might be floating.

"It is an interesting animal to see," said Prescott. "It is prime time to see them, and it is a fun activity to go slow and see them."

According to NOAA, there are several things boaters should remember when cruising near the turtles.

They should give turtles space, put the engine in neutral once a turtle is spotted, and let it pass.

Officials also urged people to watch their lines and bait at all times to avoid entanglement, wear polarized sunglasses so it is easier to see the creatures in the water, and use caution when approaching an area with large numbers of jellyfish.

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Big year for baby diamondbacks on Cape Cod

GateHouse News Service
Posted Aug 28, 2008 @ 02:14 PM


Naturalists at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary are welcoming the arrival of hundreds of baby diamondback terrapins, who have begun poking their wee heads out of their eggshells in nests scattered across Wellfleet and Eastham.

As many as 1,800 turtles or more could emerge on the Outer Cape by the end of the season, excellent news for a species listed as “threatened” in Massachusetts. In fact, sanctuary director Bob Prescott thinks this year’s turtle turnout could take the cake.

“We could exceed our record year this year,” he said, chalking the healthy numbers up to good weather conditions and persistent conservation efforts. There are about 200 nests altogether, he estimated. Some are located on the sanctuary grounds, some at Lieutenant Island and Indian Neck, and some in parts of Eastham. There’s a lone nest in Orleans.

Diamondback terrapins, named for the diamond-like facets on the ridges of their shells, live in salt marshes and their adjacent habitats and can be found in coastal locations from Texas to Wellfleet, which represents the northernmost extremity of their breeding range. They are under pressure from shoreline development, climate change and other coastal afflictions, and the sanctuary is working hard to make sure their population holds steady.

In the early summer, sanctuary staff go out into the field and place wire enclosures around the terrapin nests they find to protect the eggs from predators like skunks and raccoons. In late summer, when the eggs are getting close to hatch-time, they keep a close eye on them, moving nests that are in danger of being infested by red ants and maggots into the sanctuary’s wet lab, where the turtles can hatch in safety. (They’re later released.)

Or they might “escort” the nests from their upland locations down to the salt marsh, eliminating a leg of the journey the young turtles have to make after they’ve emerged, said Don “The Turtleman” Lewis, researcher and champion of the diamondback. It’s that first dash to the marsh that can be the most risky for the inch-big hatchlings, handy snack food for wild animals of all sorts.

Both Prescott and Lewis say there’s a direct relationship between the abundance of baby terrapins we’re seeing and the conservation effort.

“What we’re seeing is the dividends from all the hard work we’ve been doing for the last decade,” said Lewis, noting that the aggressive effort to protect the hatchlings got underway in 2000. The turtles take about seven or eight years to reach sexual maturity, so the big batches of eggs that have been produced over the last two years are evidence that enough of the hatchlings born in 2000 survived to make a difference.

In 2007, according to Prescott, about 1,800 terrapins were born — a significant swing up from the mere 200 born in a previous year.

More could be done to help the terrapins. The results of a turtle-tagging study conducted in partnership with the sanctuary by Barbara Brennessel, a professor at Wheaton College, show that the turtle habitat in need of protection might not necessarily be restricted to salt marshes.

“In reality, the hatchlings sort of amble around, and some go into the salt marsh but some go into the upland,” where they take cover under the leaf litter, Prescott said. For a long time researchers have thought that the turtles head straight for the salt marsh after hatching.

That heightens the importance of preserving the buffer zones around salt marshes, areas which are not guarded by local conservation commissions as carefully as the wetlands themselves.

“In reality, we need to be more protective of wooded habitats around salt marshes,” said Prescott. “It is vitally important that natural buffer zones be left intact.”

Provincetown Banner

Source: The Daily News Tribune

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

3 Kemp's Ridley Turtles released in Va.

CAPE CHARLES, Va., Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Three juvenile Kemp's Ridley Turtles were freed Tuesday morning after a month of recuperation at the Virginia Aquarium.

The turtles, Snap, Crackle and Pop, swam quickly into Chesapeake Bay when members of the aquarium stranding response team lowered them into the water and let them go about 50 feet from shore, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

"OK, guys! They're ready to go home," Wendy Walton, a veterinarian technician, cried to onlookers who had waded into the water to watch the release. "They've had a long trip."

The turtles were found earlier this summer in an intake canal at a nuclear power plant in New Jersey. They were transferred to Virginia from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

The aquarium decided to release the turtles at Cape Charles, a town on the bay, after another sea turtle was successfully released there.

Kemp's Ridleys Turtles, the rarest sea turtle and classified as an endangered species, nest in the Gulf of Mexico. They wander as far north as Massachusetts and are one of the sea turtles most often seen in Virginia waters.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oak Bluffs Contingent Assists in Sea Rescue of Leatherback


Swimming strongly, turtle gave rescuers a run for the money.
Pictures courtesy David Grunden.
A 1,500 pound, eight-foot long male leatherback turtle that had become entangled in fishing gear was rescued in Nantucket Sound on Friday by a group that included the Oak Bluffs harbor master and shellfish constable.

“I couldn’t believe the size of that thing. That is a first for me,” said harbor master Todd Alexander.

The call for help first came to town shellfish constable David Grunden, who is a member of the region’s sea turtle disentanglement group. Mr. Grunden said the call came in at noon via the Coast Guard that the sailboat Way to Go had spotted the troubled turtle in the Sound, swimming with what looked like a lobster pot or conch buoy attached. The sighting was about nine miles east of the Oak Bluffs harbor, a few miles west of the Cape Pogue lighthouse.

Mr. Grunden, his wife Sharry and Roger Williams, a veterinarian, were taken to the scene by the harbor master in his 25-foot powerboat.

The trip took about 30 minutes, Mr. Grunden said. He said locating the turtle was made easier by the fact that the sailboat remained on scene, its sails luffing.

When they pulled alongside the ailing turtle, Mr. Grunden said a fishing boat from Woods Hole named the Rolling Stone arrived.

Onboard was Kara Dodge, a researcher with the Large Pelagics Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She was hoping not only to release the animal but also to attach a transmitter to it.

Mr. Grunden said the turtle seemed feisty, strong and free enough to tow what was apparently a fish pot attached to the buoy. “The line was wrapped around its left flipper. He had no problem dragging what was on the bottom,” Mr. Grunden said.

Entangled with fishing gear, turtle is freed.
The Vineyard team watched as the Rolling Stone came alongside the turtle and disentangled it from the gear.

Brian Sharp of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said that while Ms. Dodge had hoped to attach a satellite transmitter to the turtle before it was released, the turtle freed itself too quickly.

Mr. Alexander, who watched the rescue operation, said at one point it looked like the big turtle was going to pull the two people out of the boat into the water. “At one point we were calling it an Oak Bluffs sleigh ride,” he said.

He speculated that the sea turtle had not been entangled long. They observed other fish pots floating in the area.

Mr. Sharp, who coordinates all sea turtle entanglements in this region, said the incident is common for this time of year. He praised the sailboat owners for not only making the call but staying nearby in case they were needed for assistance.

“We encourage boat owners to call us directly at the Marine Animal Entanglement Hotline 1-800-900-3622 or to contact the Coast Guard,” Mr. Sharp said. “We have a trained network of local, state and federal responders throughout Massachusetts. We have trained 85 to 90 people in this.”

He said Ms. Dodge has been tagging a number of free swimming sea turtles in area waters this summer. Had she tagged this turtle, it would have been the first this summer of an entangled sea turtle.

“In a typical year we get from 22 to 25 reports of animal entanglements [in state waters],” Mr. Sharp said, adding: “Sea turtles cover the entire Atlantic Ocean. They predominantly feed on jellyfish. When you see jellyfish, you usually see turtles. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle and it almost exclusively feeds on jellyfish.”

Mr. Sharp said his group has no data on the number of leatherback sea turtles that swim in Nantucket Sound or in waters around the Cape and Islands. He said there are estimates about how many turtles return to the Caribbean to lay eggs, but once the animals and the babies are at sea, populations are difficult to estimate.

Entanglement sightings are a critical part of sea turtle studies.

Mr. Sharp urged anyone who sees an entangled sea turtle to contact his group. And he cautioned against attempting a rescue and said anyone who sees an entangled turtle should stay 150 to 200 feet away. “Staying clear is not only safe for the sea turtle it is safe for the boat owner,” he said.

© 2008 Vineyard Gazette

Friday, August 1, 2008

Leatherbacks call Cape Cod home

GateHouse News Service
Posted Jul 31, 2008 @ 02:34 PM

Accidental tourists. That’s what people used to think leatherback sea turtles were. But they were wrong.

“They wanted to be here,” declared Kara Dodge, of the Large Pelagics Research Center of the University of New Hampshire.

What exactly they’re doing here and how they spend their time is the subject of Dodge’s Ph.D. research and she discussed it last week as part of the Wednesday lecture series at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Leatherbacks are not only the largest turtle in the world; they are warm-blooded, at least in part, due to a unique heat exchange system. The warmer arterial blood is blended together with colder blood returning from the animal’s surface before it reaches the heart, so the working core of the animal stays warmer.

“It can keep the body temperature up to 30 degrees higher than the surrounding environment,” Dodge noted. “Leatherbacks can grow to over 6 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds. They have a high volume to surface ratio and lose heat to the environment slowly.”

They’re fat, which is a good thing.

“They have a blubber layer which is the reason they don’t get cold stunned. That is a heat-conserving adaptation. It is several inches thick, similar to a whale or a dolphin and helps the leatherback insulate itself,” Dodge said.

They don’t mind cold water nearly as much as other turtles and will swim far north of Nova Scotia and dive to frigid depths.

“They can dive to a depth of 4,200 feet, and it’s pretty cold at 4,200 feet,” Dodge noted. “Those are depths that are reached only by sperm whales and elephant seals.”

The other problem with deep dives is the water pressure, but leatherbacks don’t have a hard shell that can be crushed.

“Leatherbacks have a vascularized boney lipid matrix; rows of interlocking bone embedded in a lipid matrix covered with a black skin that gives leatherbacks their name,” Dodge said.

They also have a series of “soft spots” around the body that allow for further flexibility.

“Physiologically they are equipped for depth as well,” explained Dodge. “They are air breathers but are able to store oxygen in the blood and muscle to get around collapsing lungs at great depths.”

Most of their dives are within 650 feet of the sea surface, which is still pretty deep.

What they are doing on these dives is completely known but much of the time they are probably eating. And what does the largest turtle like to eat? Jellyfish.

“Giant leatherbacks subsist entirely on jellyfish. Two of their favorites are moon jellies and lion’s mane jellyfish, which are seasonally abundant here,” Dodge said. “Jellyfish are over 95 percent water and relatively nutrient poor so leatherbacks have to consume large quantities. They have to eat their own body weight each day.”

That’s a lot of jellyfish but then there are often a lot around, Especially in Nantucket Sound. The turtles have a beak with scissor-like fangs for gripping jellyfish and keratinized spines in their mouth and throat pointing downward to doom for jellyfish.

Dodge is tracking the turtles via battery-operated satellite-linked transmitters. She is also collecting oceanographic data (water temperatures, salinity and such) along with jellyfish densities to determine what the turtle is doing and why. Her three initially tagged turtles, all from Cape Cod Bay last summer, were picked up from entanglements. The turtles get wound up in fishing and lobster gear. She also caught two turtles in Nantucket Sound.

Dodge uses a spotter plane and a specially equipped boat, with a pulpit built by her husband and a giant hoop that’s dropped just in front of the turtle after the boat sneaks up from behind.

Bob, the first turtle, was tracked from Aug. 29 to Sept. 15. It was found dead Sept. 17, just off Dennis entangled in two sets of lobster gear, one trap and a 10-pot trawl. It never left the bay.

Scusset, the second turtle, was tracked for 184 days. It remained in the bay for a month until Oct. 19 when it rounded Race Point, went west to the Mid-Atlantic, swam off the continental shelf, swung by Bermuda following an underwater mountain chain and headed for the Bahamas and U.S. coast when the battery burned out.

“Scusset dove to over 500 meters (1,600 feet), swam 7,612 kilometers or 4,730 miles in 184 days,” Dodge said.

Unfortunately, the third turtle was also ill-fated. It had been entangled twice and after a month stopped moving. Dodge tracked it down by kayak in the Chase Garden Creek marsh system on the Dennis/Yarmouth town line. She hauled it in and dissected it.

“We found a 3-foot by 1 1/2-foot piece of plastic sheeting in its stomach,” she said. “It was a very unlucky turtle all around.”

Leatherbacks can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and once they ingest it it’s stuck in their system.

One of the transmitters, which are fist sized and cost $5,000, quickly stopped working on the first of the Sound-caught leatherbacks. The second turtle, “Holly,” made a beeline for the continental shelf and the transmission stopped after 16 days.

Dodge is looking forward to this summer’s tagging season.

“There are over 40 sightings now of leatherbacks in Rhode Island and Massachusetts waters,” she said. “They’re mostly in Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound and some around Martha’s Vineyard. There is a high density of jellyfish off the Vineyard.”

Two weeks ago, on July 17, she captured her first free-swimming non-entangled leatherback, “Henry.”

“He’s an awesome looking turtle. You can see how fat he is,” she said showing off a slide. “When they’re gorging on jellyfish they can blow up. We estimate he is 700 to 800 pounds. In fact the blood work was showing high cholesterol. He has already gone off the continental shelf. In six days since he was tagged he has gone over 450 kilometers. That’s twice as fast as any other tagging data.”

Henry is a mover but is expected back since this is where the jellyfish are.

Worldwide in the 1980s there were an estimated 115,000 nesting females but that number fell to 20,000 to 30,000 by 1996. Turtles in the Pacific were especially hard hit due to the harvesting of eggs from the nests.

Cape Cod is an important part of their itinerary; 128 leatherbacks stranded here between 1996 and 2006. Dodge’s work will be especially useful in learning about their open water habits and needs.

“This migratory, warm-blooded, largest living reptile is simply too wonderful to abandon to extinction,” herpetologist Skip Lazell wrote in “This Broken Archipelago.”

“And I think I share those sentiments,” Dodge agreed.

Cape Codder

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rehabilitated turtles return home to the sea

By Staff reports

Wed Jul 30, 2008, 02:00 PM EDT


Five Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles were released on Dowses Beach in the village of Osterville Wednesday. The sea turtles – all juveniles – were found cold-stunned between November 2006 and January 2008, and rescued by volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Six regional marine animal organizations worked rehabilitation and release: New England Aquarium, National Marine Life Center, University of New England Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium, and the Riverhead Foundation.

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the world’s most endangered sea turtle, with only a few thousand breeding females known to exist in the wild. Kemp’s Ridleys are also among the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults weighing up to 100 pounds and reaching about two feet in length. The juveniles being released weigh 10 to 25 pounds. Kemp’s Ridleys range includes the Gulf coasts of Mexico and the United States, and the Atlantic coast of North America.

Late each fall, many juvenile sea turtles feeding in Cape Cod Bay fail to migrate south. Since the turtles are cold-blooded, their bodies assume the temperature of the water around them and they eventually become hypothermic. Some die at sea while others drift to shore. Volunteers from Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescue the turtles along the beach and transport them to rehabilitation centers. There the turtles are slowly warmed and treated for complications of hypothermia, including pneumonia and bone and joint problems. Sea turtle stranding season lasts from late October through December.

“Saving these critically endangered animals is essential to ocean conservation. We’re thrilled to be working alongside institutions such as the New England Aquarium, Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center, MassAudubon, Riverhead, and NOAA in the fight to save stranded sea turtles on Cape Cod” said Kathy Zagzebski, NMLC President and executive director.

Two of the turtles will be tagged prior to release to gather information about their post-release behavior, survival, migration and habitat, and to see how the rehabilitation techniques affect the turtles in the wild. “Lavender” is being fitted with a satellite tag that was funded by donors at NMLC’s 2007 Mermaid Ball fundraising gala. “Scooby Doo” will be fitted with a tag generously provided by the Riverhead Foundation. The satellite tags, which weigh less than 2 ounces, are attached to the turtles’ shells just behind their necks. Physical identification tags are also placed on the turtles’ flippers and a PIT tag just under their skin. The public may follow the turtles’ progress at

Source: Wicked Local

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sea Turtle Hospital

Sea Turtle Hospital News

July 30, 2008 - 11:16AM

She's got turtles on the Brame

At first she was as quiet as a mouse. But we soon found out that this little mouse can roar, especially when she's educating our visitors about our sea turtles. Intern Bailey Brame's family has a home on the island, so her prior experience with our hospital was that of a typical island visitor, taking a tour during our open house. But as anyone who has spent time on Topsail will tell you, through some kind of weird osmosis, sea turtles get into your blood. During her visits Bailey began closely observing the coastal surroundings and the particular stresses that the turtles were confronting, wondering what she could do to help. It was her concern about the environment and her desire to work for a non-profit that led her to our internship.

A twenty-minute tour doesn't accurately reflect the effort that goes on behind the scenes, and Bailey was amazed at the amount of hands-on work that's required to get our turtles healthy and ready for their adoring public. Even more surprising to her was that fact that she was given a lot of responsibility from her first day. Her favorite turtle is "Boater" who was admitted last fall with horrific propeller wounds. Boater is quite a challenge. After being plated and screwed back together at the vet school most of his wounds are healed. But there's still one very deep hole that requires about an hour of precise and patient flushing and packing. Obviously it's been time well spent, as Bailey reports the hole is finally beginning to show signs of healing.

Bailey was on-hand for our June release, and is thrilled to know that Boater will someday be taking that short ride to the beach. She's especially proud of how her fellow interns all "kick into high gear" for incoming turtles, focusing and working together to get the turtle cleaned, medicated and settled into a tank to begin the healing process.

Bailey is astounded at the enormous fan base our turtles have, drawing huge crowds to the hospital during the five days we open during the week. Once there you'll find her wearing many hats: greeter, crowd control and behind the tank telling the story of a patient. When she's not at the hospital she's a pretty low-maintenance type of gal: reading, sewing, knitting and cooking. In a few short weeks this Durham native returns Wellesley College in Massachusetts as a junior majoring in Economics, knowing now that sea turtles are priceless.

Topsail Turtle Project

The Turtle Project coordinators have a new project, and we have you all to thank for making us aware of this need. We get a lot of questions on the beach and at the hospital about sea turtle etiquette (not the turtles, their manners are just fine!)

Everyone wants to do the right thing by our turtles, so we've created a flyer explaining all the stuff you need to know to co-exist with our island's oldest visitors. Our beach crew visited local real estate/ property management groups to ask that they include this information in their rental packages. We'd like to thank the following for their support in doing so: Century 21, Treasure Realty, Island Realty, Intracoastal Realty and Coldwell Banker Coastline Realty.

If our volunteers have inadvertently overlooked you (it's possible, with so many places renting units) call Gayle Childress at (910) 328-7116 who will gladly supply you with whatever you need.

Our sea turtle mamas continue to bust their carapaces laying nests. Visit our website to see just how hard they're working: Please report all sea turtle activity (nestings, strandings, injured turtles or hatchings) to our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880.

Hospital open house

Our record-breaking crowds continue, although recent donations have been, to put it kindly, puzzling. Come on folks! Where else can you see a sea turtle without forking over big bucks, and even big bucks won't get you as up close and personal as you'll be at our hospital. We know the economy is tanking, and everyone is cutting back. But really, if you come through with your family of eight and don't even throw a few dollars in the donation jar - well - there is such a thing as karma. But to those of you "picking up the slack," outfitting your family in our T-shirts, or throwing in the $20s and even $100 bills - God bless you for your generosity!

We open daily from 2 to 4 p.m., except Wednesday and Sunday, through August. Our gift shop is also open during those hours. We occasionally close without notice for incoming turtles and dangerous weather conditions, but generally for only a short period of time. Please note that two incorrect phone numbers appear in various places in the "Coaster" magazine: the correct number for reporting turtle activity/strandings is: 910-470-2880. The correct number for the hospital is: 910-328-3377.

Last month for Turtle Talks

Turtle Talks continue every Wednesday through August. This one-hour presentation, 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. is chock full of visuals and handouts that are appropriate for ages K-adult. Cameras are welcome and there'll be plenty of great photo ops. The site is the Surf City Community Center, JH Batts Rd. (off Rt. 210 between Docksider and Gilligans.) Admission is free but donations for our turtles are appreciated. Please leave food and drinks in the car. For more information call the hospital at: 910-328-3377.

Yard Sale just around the corner.

We're gearing up for our Labor Day Weekend Yard Sale. I'll give you the 411 as soon as it's finalized.

Questions, comments or suggestions for stories

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Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.