Turtle app will help biologist track endangered species
HAVERHILL — For the endangered Blanding's turtle, it could be the perfect Christmas gift.
Local wildlife biologist Mark Grgurovic has teamed up with a video and technology whiz from Marblehead to create an app for the iPad which, once it's complete, will offer downloaders a turtle's-eye view of their wild world.
In turn, people who buy the app will be helping fund Grguovic's work protecting the reptile and its dwindling habitat.
"The iPad app will raise awareness of endangered turtles, and some of the proceeds will go toward my project," said Grgurovic, 36, originally from North Andover but who now lives in Haverhill. "It will allow us to buy radio transmitters and expand our protection efforts."
Grgurovic, a hardwood-floor installer by trade, moonlights as a wildlife biologist while also offering consulting services to municipalities and companies mulling development in environmentally sensitive settings.
He has been studying Blanding's turtles since 1999, when he earned a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst by doing a research project on his beloved reptiles.
But it was a chance meeting last summer that may propel Grgurovic and his four-legged friends to high-tech status.
He was in Georgetown on a turtle-nest protection mission near the Parker River when he was approached by a man who was interested in the comings and goings of the turtles.
It turned out to be Paul Michaels, a videographer, photographer and software developer from Marblehead who broached the idea of putting Grgurovic and his turtles on center-stage in the form of an interactive graphic novel adapted for the iPad.
"He approached me and asked if I'd be interested," Grgurovic said. "All summer, he followed me around with a video camera, and through brainstorming together, it kind of evolved into this."
'This' is a concept that now lives only in the heads of Michaels and Grgurovic, as well on a promotional Web site known as Kickstarter, which offers investors and would-be app buyers a chance to prepay for or invest in the app, which will in turn help fund its creation.
Michaels estimates that the app will cost about $100,000 to develop. So far, just $12,600 has been raised, and the funding window on Kickstarter closes Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.
If they fail to raise the $100,000, says Michaels, he will be forced to go the more conventional, and difficult, route of raising private capital from investors.
"That's Plan B," he said.
With just a few days left for people to buy the app, or to invest varying amounts, Michaels is pulling out all the stops to entice people to buy-in to the interactive app, offering prizes for investors that include making them part of the story as it is created.
Michaels said that while Kickstarter is an unusual way of raising money, it has worked with other products. He said that once the Blanding's turtle app is developed, who hopes to roll out a whole series of wildlife-related graphic novels that offer readers a chance to insert themselves into the story while also learning about endangered species around the country.
"We want kids to own it and enjoy it and be part of the story," he said.
For Grgurovic, more exposure for the beleagured Blanding's turtle is all-good.
Once abundant throughout its habitat — from the Great Lakes to New England — the number of turtles has dwindled dramatically in recent decades as more of its traditional habitat is taken away by commercial or residential development and the construction of roads.
He explained that the turtles have a very large habitat, and that they travel many miles from their hibernation sites to nesting sites in the spring. As they go, they often must cross roads newly built through their traditional habitat. Cars and trucks are the leading killers of the turtle, which have been known to live for 100 years or more.
Grgurovic and volunteers working with him have placed radio telemetry devices on about 10 females and have been tracking their travels to nesting sites around the Parker River, mostly in Georgetown. He has identified some 90 turtles in what has become one of the most well-studied and understood Blanding's populations in the country.
As more is understood, biologists are able to use that information to identify sensitive vernal ponds or other nesting areas that might otherwise be developed and destroyed, further imperiling their population.
He said last year, developers of an industrial park agreed to build replacement habitat that was going to be destroyed by the construction of roads and buildings. The project worked, Grgurovic said, as several turtles were seen in the new habitat over the summer.
He could not say where the project is located, noting that collectors have been known to swoop in and rob nests as the hatchlings come out. The turtles are then sold on the black market for up to $10,000 apiece, he said.
"It's against the law to take an endangered species, but some people like having these as exotic pets," he said, adding that Blanding's turtles never last long in captivity. "They die within a week if they are in a glass cage," he said. The reason? "They need huge areas."
WILDRZ: A Kids Graphic Novel+ Adventure App, for your iPad
A Technology project in Marblehead, MA by Paul Michaels
More information HERE!
Source: Gloucester Times