By Ruth Thompson
GateHouse News Service
Posted Sep 16, 2010
The recent release of 18 painted turtle hatchlings into the wild was cause for celebration.
About 20 people were present at the Wareham Community Garden to witness the return of the thumb-size turtles to their natural habitat.
According to Don “the turtle guy” Lewis, painted turtles are medium-size and are found in lakes, ponds, wetlands and bogs throughout the state. He said painted turtles are on the protected status list in Massachusetts or elsewhere.
Lewis serves as the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts. His research and rescue exploits have been featured on National Geographic TV, and his work has been profiled in books on global animal rescue, endangered wildlife management and habitat preservation. His original stories and wildlife photography have been published around the globe.
Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse document the nature of coastal Massachusetts on their website, TurtleJournal.com, and they share real-time adventures directly from the wild on Twitter.
In addition to the 18 painted turtle hatchlings that were released, Lewis also brought along a pair of Eastern box turtle hatchlings and two diamondback terrapin hatchlings to greet the community.
The Eastern box turtle hatchlings had been rescued from a nest along Route 6. The diamondback terrapins were protected on a beach in a nearby estuary.
Eastern box turtles are not aquatic and live in woodlands, fields and backyards throughout the Wareham community. They are protected in Massachusetts as a species of special concern.
Diamondback terrapins are a coastal marine turtle and can be found in salt and brackish water, such as salt marshes. They are protected in Massachusetts and are listed as threatened.
“The objective was to demonstrate for the community some of the wonderful turtle species that share the Wareham community with us,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the first 11 painted turtles came from three nests that were laid in the end of May in the garden beds of the Wareham Community Garden.
“The first was discovered by Dick Wheeler when he saw the female painted turtle and discovered the nest,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Wheeler called him and Wieber Nourse.
“When Sue went to the Wareham Community Gardens to protect this nest, she and Dick watched another female painted turtle dig a nest and deposit her eggs,” he said. “A third nest was found by another gardener in her garden patch.”
Lewis said the painted turtles have been nesting in the spot at the Wareham Community Gardens for generations.
“Now that humans are working their nesting site as a community garden, it makes good sense for them to exhibit good stewardship to protect future generations of turtles for future generations of humans to enjoy.”
The first three nests were laid and protected in late May. They hatched Aug. 17 after 83 days of incubation, yielding 11 perfect babies.
Lewis said while working on a new garden, Wheeler found two more sets of eggs buried in the soil.
“He called Sue and me,” Lewis said. “We relocated the eggs June 30 to our ‘turtle sanctuary’ in our backyard. Because the eggs were disturbed at an unknown period of their development, we had little expectation but always hope. From these eggs, seven perfect babies emerged Sept. 3 with the arrival of Hurricane Earl.”
Lewis said turtles hatch “fully prepared to deal with the world.”
“Their first act of survival is to tunnel to the surface from the nest and to scramble as quickly as possible into thick vegetation and wetlands for cover and concealment,” he said. “They are tiny, around an inch long and weighing a quarter of an ounce. Their shells are still crunchable like potato chips, and they are vulnerable to a host of critters.”
By the time the hatchlings are about 3 years old and the size of a hockey puck, they have an excellent chance of surviving for the long haul.
Lewis said depending on the species, turtles can live a “very, very long time.”
By protecting nests with a cage (predator excluder), and by helping them get into the thick vegetation near the wetlands when they hatch, humans are providing an enormous boost to the survival of these babies and to the survival of the species.
“Once in the wild, these babies will largely live off the nutrient package (yolk sac) that momma has provided for the fall,” he said. “They will burrow under vegetation or slip into the thick vegetation of the wetlands and burrow into the mud and muck for the winter. They will snooze their winter in the Great White North, protected by a covering, a warming ooze. In the springtime, when temperatures rise once again, they will emerge hungry and raring to go.”
Lewis said turtles have adapted to every conceivable, and some pretty inconceivable, habitat on earth and can be found on the six continents in landscapes and seascapes from the ocean depths to the high desert.
“Turtles serve our world as a metaphor for its environmental health,” he said. “They are the earth's ecological barometers. As turtle species decline, the quality of our planet declines proportionately. As turtle species recover, so does our precious blue world.”
Lewis said if someone comes across a hatchling, if it appears healthy, place it under vegetation in a safe area where it was found. For adult turtles, place the turtle in a safe place in the direction it was heading.
Because different species requires different habitats, people are encouraged to call the hotline.
“If you have any doubt our question about what to do, call the 24/7 turtle hotline at 508-274-5108,” he said.
Source: Wicked Local
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