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.