Sunday, August 29, 2010

Patty continues long,slow road to recovery at National Marine Life Center

By Ruth Thompson
GateHouse News Service

Things continue to look up for Patty as she makes a slow recovery from the brink of death at the National Marine Life Center (NMLC).

The diamondback terrapin turtle was brought to the NMLC in March 2009 after having been cold stunned by the frigid temperatures of winter water. At the time, she was immobilized by shock, blinded by burst blood vessels in her eyes, and her rear legs were partially paralyzed.

Diamondback terrapins are on endangered species list in Massachusetts.

Turtles that are cold stunned often die, and Patty’s prognosis at the time was questionable.

She responded well to treatments that included antibiotics, physical therapy, a hearty, healthy diet and plenty of rest and relaxation.

A serious bone infection she developed is also improving.

“Her shell is starting to grow back,” NMLC President and Executive Director Kathy Zagzebski said. “You can see the pigment coming back.”

Zagzebski explained the shell of a turtle is actually bone, and on top of the bone is a layer of skin, the pigment of the shell is the skin, and on top of the skin is the keratin, which is much like the human fingernail. Below the shell is another layer of skin, and below that is more bone.

“It’s the lower layer of bone that is growing back,” Zagzebski said.

When Patty was found frozen and brought to the NMLC by Don “The Turtle Guy” Lewis, the blood supply to the bone had been cut off and the bone started dying.

“She lost 95 percent of her top shell,” Zagzebski said.

In order to prevent further infection, the dead skin and bone had to be removed.

Patty receives a gentle scrub with antibiotics every day, which is followed by an antibiotic-laced dressing being placed over her shell. The water in her tank is changed daily, and the rocks inside the tank are also cleaned to make sure there is nothing within her habitat that could make her sick.

“It’s very critical we make sure she does not get an internal infection,” Zagzebski said.

Because of the loss of bone and skin, Patty’s shell has a pinkish hue to it.

“I don’t think she’ll ever look normal, but we want the bone to grow thick enough to protect her in the wild,” Zagzebski said.

The objective of the NMLC is to return animals to their natural environment once they are fully recovered and rehabilitated and able to care for themselves on their own.

As for Patty, there’s more good news: she’ll soon be moving into a larger tank outside of the exam room.

“It has a bigger filtration system,” Zagzebski said.

And that will allow for more room to stretch those legs.

Another area of improvement for Patty is her mobility.

“She can move very well,” Zagzebski said.

She is regularly tested to see how she fares in deeper water, and while she’s not ready for the ocean’s depths, Zagzebski said she is in double the amount of water she was in last spring.

“That’s a good sign,” she said. “She can move well and walk well, though she’s not swimming at 100 percent yet.”

There’s optimism that Patty will eventually be back 100 percent, especially if her appetite stays strong.

According to Zagzebski, Patty consumes up to two pounds of cohogs every week (weight is based on cohogs in their shells).

“Patty would really appreciate anyone able to donate cohogs,” Zagzebski said.

Yet while Patty is definitely moving in the right direction, Zagzebski said she will be a long-term patient at the NMLC.

It could be five years before she is ready to be released back into the wild.

In the meantime, Patty remains the darling of the NMLC community with staff members, volunteers and visitors all looking after her and wishing her well.


Patty isn’t the only turtle at the NMLC currently being nursed back to health.

In a private room off the maze of corridors in the NMLC building, Catch-22 is also settling in nicely to his surroundings as he is being treated for legions on his shell.

Catch-22 is a northern red-bellied cooter.

He was part of the Head Start program sponsored by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. The program collects 100 hatchlings and places them with partner organizations – wildlife centers, zoos, schools – that care for the hatchlings over the winter months following specific guidelines.

The hatchlings remain awake through the winter and are given all the lettuce and vitamins they can eat.

Zagzebski said they put on the equivalent of three years of growth, so they have a greater chance of survival twhen they are released back into the wild.

Northern red-bellied cooters are a freshwater species indigenous to Plymouth County.

They are on the endangered list at both the state and federal level.

Before they are released around Memorial Day, the hatchlings are turned back over to the state from the partner organizations, where they are measured and weighted and checked for any potential health issues.

Zagzebski said the state asked the NMLC to examine Catch-22, named as such because his ID number was 22.

“He had some other issues,” she said, adding that he seemed weak and his mouth was continuously open.

As part of the procedure for evaluating new patients, Zagzebski said Catch-22 was X-rayed as part of his full exam.

His X-ray revealed that he had swallowed a staple.

“That can be really dangerous as it moves through his system,” Zagzebski said.

The veterinarian felt surgery to remove the staple would be too dangerous, so it was suggested Catch-22 be tube fed a lettuce and oil concoction to help lubricate his insides.

“The staple passed through without any internal damage,” Zagzebski said.

She said Catch-22 could have been stationed beneath a bulletin board, where a staple fell into his tank, as a possible explanation of how the turtle could have ended up with a staple in his innards.

“Turtles will try to eat anything in their environment,” she said. “We have to be really careful about their environment.”

As for the legions on his shell, a biopsy revealed it’s a superficial fungal infection.

He is being treated with the antibiotic scrub.

Zagzebski said the legions are already starting to heal and the diseased pieces are falling off.

“It does not go to the bone,” she said.

Despite Catch-22 being rather shy, which is why is he being kept in a somewhat out-of-the-way spot, Zagzebski said he’s doing really well, especially since passing the staple.

“He’s doing really well,” she said.

NMLC staff are just waiting on lab results to make sure there are no serious issues with Catch-22; if not, he’ll be released back into the wild.

“Hopefully before it gets too cold,” Zagzebski said. “The worse case scenario is we’ll keep him here over the winter and release him in the spring.”

Source: Wicked Local

Copyright 2010 Wicked Local Wareham. Some rights reserved

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Turtles halt cemetery construction

Norwell, Massachusetts

By Jessica Bartlett, Town Correspondent

The building of a new cemetery off Stetson Shrine Lane in Norwell is still on hold due to the presence of the Eastern Box Turtle, an endangered species with habitats in the area, causing concern about the increasing lack of cemetery space in Norwell.

About a half mile from the North River, Stetson Shrine Lane was land initially given to the Norwell Recreation Department, said Gertrude Daneau, the chairman of the Cemetery Committee. It was traded with the Cemetery Committee after the initial property for the cemetery was found with too high of a water table.

Yet after a town meeting to switch the properties, turtles were discovered around the area, inhibiting the development of the land for a cemetery.

“We have the money to develop it, we're all set. We've been set for more than a year to develop that property, but the turtles are holding us up,” Daneau said. “How much longer it's going to be? We don't know.”

Currently, the town has about 35 cemetery lots available for immediate use, and another 20 additional lots available for cremation burials. Because of the low numbers, Norwell residents are unable to buy lots ahead of time.

“Up until three months ago, we would sell any residents of the town lots ahead of time, but now we can't do that. We have a lot of people calling, but what do we tell them? If I had filled all the requests we'd received, we wouldn't have much left. Then if someone died, what would we do? They wouldn't be able to be buried in Norwell,” she said.

If Norwell runs out of cemetery plots, residents would have to go to private cemeteries in nearby towns for burial, places that charge double than what the town charges, Daneau said.

“It is a fairly immediate problem,” said the chair of the Norwell Board of Selectmen, Richard Merritt.

“We still do have some space on our cemetery on Washington Street, we have enough to accommodate burials for a few more years, but we don't have space to sell people who want to plan further ahead,” he said.

This can be problematic, Marrit said, as only residents of the town can purchase cemetery plots in Norwell, a problem for older residents who move out of their homes in their later years.

Switching sites isn't really an option, Merritt said, as you need a lot of space, road access, and a suitable water table, a difficult find in Norwell.

However, to smooth the process, Norwell has dedicated a parcel of the land in the area for conservation, and is even willing to make the cemetery grounds smaller to make room for the turtles.

“I think it will be approved under some circumstances, it may get smaller than it is, but best case scenario, we go forward with our plans,” he said. “I think it will be resolved before next summer, well within a year's time.”

Marion Larsen, an Information and Educational Biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, couldn't comment on the status of the proposal but noted that it is rare for cases like this to be denied.

"In many cases, there is no requirement for the project to change, sometimes modifications can be made, and very few are not allowed to go through at all," she said.

Yet using the land is still a long ways away, as the town still needs to appropriate the funds for building at a town meeting in May.

Daneau doesn't see anything happening with it anytime soon.

“It's going to be at least a year, and that's being optimistic,” she said.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Two entangled leatherback sea turtles rescued

Two leatherback sea turtles entangled in fishing gear were rescued yesterday in Cape waters.

The turtles weighed between 700 and 800 pounds, said Brian Sharp with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, which runs the Massachusetts Sea Turtle Disentanglement Network.

Both of the entanglements were reported by recreational fishermen, he said.

The first turtle was spotted around 11 a.m. in Truro's Pamet Harbor, he said. The second was seen in the Wychmere Harbor area around 2 p.m., said Harwich Harbor Master Tom Leach.

An assistant harbor master helped with the Harwich rescue, he said.

Crews from the International Fund for Animal Welfare marine mammal rescue program responded to the Harwich rescue, as the Provincetown rescuers were in Truro, Sharp said. Both turtles were able to swim away after the fishing gear was removed.

Source: Cape Cod Times

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Endangered sea turtles to be released off Cape beach today

Globe staff file photo/Dina Rudick

By Alex Katz, Globe Correspondent

Months after they were found near death on the beaches of Cape Cod, 18 endangered sea turtles will be returned to the ocean this afternoon on the shores of the lower Cape.

Staff and volunteers from the New England Aquarium and the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, will assist with the release.

The juvenile Kemp's Ridleys are the world's most endangered sea turtles, and the species most affected by the Gulf oil spill, aquarium officials said. Some scientists expect the oil to be largely gone by the time the turtles arrive in the Gulf, while others remain deeply worried about the long-term damage of dispersants used there.

The turtles were originally rescued last fall by the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay before being brought to the aquarium for life-saving medical care.

After months of rehabilitation, they are now ready for release. The sea turtles are expected to remain nearby and feed on crabs for the remainder of the summer, and then ultimately make their way down south.

At the end of every summer sea turtles can get trapped off Cape Cod. Their body temperature declines as the water temperature falls, and they become lethargic.

If the turtles are lucky, they wash up on beaches where more than 100 volunteers affiliated with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and staff there comb beaches to find them each winter. The near-death turtles are then brought to designated turtle rehabilitation centers to be treated for hypothermia, pneumonia, dehydration, shell and bone fractures, and infections.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Beachgoers advised to watch for tiny turtles

By Aaron Gouveia
August 08, 2010

They're back. And this year they're early.

This summer's heat wave has baked the diamondback terrapin eggs buried underneath local beaches to the point the minuscule turtles are hatching earlier than at any point in the past three decades, said Don Lewis, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts.

Terrapin eggs on Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet began hatching Friday, after being laid in a nest on June 5, Lewis said. The eggs' 61-day incubation period is nine days shorter than any recorded in the past 31 years, Lewis said.

Terrapins hatched after 69 days in Eastham, which is still five days fewer than an average incubation period, Lewis said.

Although Lewis said the early hatching is "not negative," the turtles have been without much-needed moisture, which they absorb and use to grow while incubating.

"The fact that it's been a dry summer means a lot of the eggs are not getting enough moisture and the babies are going to be smaller than normal, which increases their vulnerability," Lewis said.

The newly hatched terrapins are roughly 1-inch long, weighing in at just one-quarter of an ounce when they hatch. That means the turtles, which are listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species List, are susceptible to a plethora of predators.

On average, each nest contains about a dozen eggs, but often only nine or 10 hatch, Lewis said. As a whole, the survival rate drops to about one of every 250 baby terrapins, he said.

Although common predators such as raccoons, skunks and foxes use the protein-rich turtles to feed their own young, the turtles are also vulnerable to human beings who often don't realize they are killing the terrapins.

Lewis urged all beachgoers to look for "crawling pebbles" while traversing the Cape's sandy shorelines for the rest of the summer, and to carry the baby turtles to safety if possible.

"Just doing that little thing has an enormous conservation value because those few feet from nest to scrambling into vegetation are the most dangerous moments in that animal's life," Lewis said. "Saving a couple of turtles here or there makes an enormous difference to the population."

Lewis said Wellfleet Bay is one of New England's major hot spots for terrapins, and anyone with questions about the turtles can call Lewis' 24-hour hotline at 508-274-5108.

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.