Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hypothermic turtle rescued on Cape Cod

A large sea turtle is recovering in the water tank at New England Aquarium this morning, after being rescued from a salt marsh in Cape Cod where it was stranded and in danger of dying of hypothermia.

New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said the 175-pound adult female loggerhead sea turtle was discovered inside the Drummer Cove Pond salt marsh in Wellfleet by a Rhode Island man Sunday evening. The man contacted officials at the Massachusetts Audubon sanctuary, which decided to wait and see if the turtle would move itself into the waters. The turtle stayed put.

New England Aquarium biologists, contacted by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, traveled to the marsh Monday morning to examine the turtle, which they have named Acadia. The turtle had a body temperature of 54.8 degrees and was deemed hypothermic.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, LaCasse explained, and their internal body temperature changes based on the temperature around them. The temperature of Cape Cod Bay was near 60 degrees.

"Water temperatures do not change as quickly as air temperatures," LaCasse said. "We think she was left behind by the tide and became hypothermic."

The turtle was taken to the aquarium in Boston for examinations on Monday, LaCasse said. Bloodwork was abnormal, and she was found to be anemic with low blood sugar levels. Acadia is "alert, but lethargic," LaCasse said, and is currently swimming in the large tank at the aquarium with other turtles.

"With a turtle that size, it should be more difficult for us to handle," LaCasse said, referring to her lethargic manner. "There's some other abnormalities, and we're looking to see how to treat her."

Although it is common in November for turtles to be stranded around Cape Cod, Acadia is a different story. She was found in mid-October and she is an older, larger turtle, compared with the younger turtles that are usually found that weigh four to 10 pounds.

"Most turtles we rescue in November are Kemp's Ridley turtles, who are hypothermic and then become stranded," LaCasse added. "Acadia was out of the water due to the low tide and then became hypothermic."

In September, turtles that stay around the Cape during the summer to feast on crabs begin their southward migration to warmer waters. Some stay behind too long. Twenty-five to 150 hypothermic turtles are found around the Cape each fall.

Acadia is scheduled for more examinations over the next few days. If she is fine to go in the next few days, LaCasse said, she will be taken to the mid-Atlantic states and released there, where temperatures are similar, but she'll have a shorter trip south.

"If Acadia's recovery takes weeks or months, she'll be taken to Georgia or Florida and be released there, where water temperatures would be in the 70s," LaCasse said.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Middleboro 4-H Club leads beach clean up in Plymouth

PLYMOUTH — On Saturday, September 26, the Nature's Navigators 4-H Science club of Middleboro led 4-H members and volunteers in cleaning the beach at Plymouth Harbor. The event was organized by the Nature's Navigators 4-H volunteer leader, Charles Chace of Middleboro. The harbor beach was cleaned, including the jetty and Nelson Beach. In total, 236 pounds of trash were removed from the beach to be properly disposed of.

"I've often stressed the importance of removing plastic bags, which look like jellyfish to hungry sea turtles," said Mr. Chace. "Once swallowed, the bags clog the turtle's stomach, causing them to starve. This year we gathered 315 plastic bags, surely saving a few turtles." The 4-H volunteers also gathered 731 cigarette butts, and hundreds of plastic eating utensils, empty cans and bottles, and food wrappers.

"We are very proud of the community service work of all of our 4-H'ers," said Plymouth County Extension 4-H Educator, Sam Fox. "This community service project shows the good that can be done when a group of concerned youth come together to help their community and their environment."

The Nature's Navigators have a history of completing projects that combine their interest in environmental science with community service. In addition to the Plymouth Harbor Beach cleanup, which the Nature's Navigators have participated in for seven years, they also have identified and documented vernal pools for protection by the state, and have constructed wood duck nesting boxes for donation to Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife.

For more information on future Plymouth County 4-H community service activities, or how you can become involved in Plymouth County 4-H as a member or volunteer contact the Plymouth County Extension office at 781-293-3541, or e-mail

Plymouth County Extension 4-H Youth and Family Development is an outreach education program of Plymouth County government in cooperation with UMass Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture. Plymouth County/UMass Extension offers equal opportunities in programs and employment.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Crop of turtles hatch at Wareham Community Gardens

WAREHAM — Plants are apparently not the only thing growing in Wareham Community Gardens. An empty plot made the perfect hatching ground for three baby turtles. Two Eastern box turtles and one painted turtle made their appearance on Tuesday.

"The painted turtle was a surprise," said turtle researcher and rescuer Don Lewis, also known as "the Turtle Guy."

Lewis was called to the gardens in June after Wareham resident Bob Brady told Lewis an Eastern box turtle nest had been found in someone's garden plot. Lewis, his wife and research partner Sue Wieber Nourse and Brady moved the nest to an empty plot and covered it with a predator excluder cage to keep it safe.

When Lewis checked on the nest Tuesday, he found a second nest there — and the painted turtle hatchling inside. Apparently, a mother turtle had made her nest there before the rescuers had moved the Eastern box nest to the spot.

"Obviously, this 'Turtle Guy' has begun to think like a turtle," Lewis said.

The Eastern box turtle is a species of special concern in Massachusetts, which is the lowest of three tiers of protected species in the state. A land turtle, it lives in woodlands and back yards. They grow to be 6 inches long and have a dome-shaped, orange and yellow shell.

Painted turtles are aquatic, and fresh water turtles are more prolific than Eastern box turtles. The painted turtles will grow to 8 or 9 inches long and have shallower shells.

Under better conditions, many more turtle babies would have hatched from the nests. But the weather and small predators, such as insects, meant that only a few survived.

"It's been a cool and chilly spring and summer, which has not been good for turtle productivity," Lewis said. "Normally, there would be three to five box turtles in a nest and normally about five to eight painted turtles."

The hatchlings were slightly dehydrated, Lewis said, so he bathed them in some fresh water on Tuesday "to give them a head start." In a day or two, they will be released back at their natal site.

"The one sure thing that I have discovered in my afterlife — retirement — is that turtles build community and tiny baby turtles bind people together in magical ways," Lewis said. "If a community garden is good, then a community turtle garden is even better."