Turtle Roundup at Eagle Bluffs
and any other distinguishing characteristics, and then they mark individuals by drilling holes along the outer edge of the turtle’s shell (a common practice among herpetologists). The divisions along the shell (called scutes) are arranged the same way on most turtle species. Since holes are drilled in a consistent pattern along these divisions, there is a uniform numbering system for most of the turtles captured. This makes it easier to record information about the turtles because each turtle has an identifying number. Only snapping turtles and softshells get marked differently. Due to their size, shell type, and aggressive nature, it is safer for both the turtle and the researcher to mark them using a passive integrated transponder, or PIT tag. These tags are the same as those injected into family pets to help return them if they get lost. A coded tag is injected into the turtle’s back leg and is recorded using a special scanner.
Once the turtles are marked or tagged, Vic will be able to use different population models to estimate the population sizes and distribution. “So really, these first few years at Eagle Bluffs trapping turtles, the objective is to try to get as many animals as we can marked,” says Vic.
The turtle information is entered into a large database each year. Trapping had entered the third year in 2013, and by the end of the season there were more than 1,300 turtles marked. Population estimates for some pools were nearly 1,000 individuals, and they fluctuated around natural flood and drought events. Future population models will take management actions like planting, disking, and herbicide treatment of invasive species into account.
Turtle trapping is important for Eagle Bluffs CA because knowing where the area’s turtle populations are concentrated helps Vic make decisions about water levels on the wetland area. The Department of Conservation makes management decisions based in part on scientific research like turtle trapping.
LABOR OF LOVE
These types of projects also benefit volunteers by providing research experience and helping them discover nature in a new way.
“You aren’t just looking at it, you’re in it!” says Katie Moreau, a student at University of Missouri studying fisheries and wildlife and a seasoned turtle trapping volunteer. As someone studying wildlife management, she sees the benefit of turtle trapping from a conservation perspective. “It is a way to get people involved in research, which is an important step in conservation success.” She says having safe turtle handling experience has already helped her with an internship and has been a good way for her to see adaptive management practices, a concept she is learning in her classes, firsthand.
During my own volunteer experience, I fought my way through high-reaching grasses surrounding the pools, trying to avoid submerged logs beneath all the green duckweed floating at the water’s surface. I accidentally filled chest waders with water because I went in deeper than expected. I also got to enjoy long walks across the marshland, where I often saw frogs, fish, and other aquatic animals inches away. Overall, the experience allowed me to be intimately connected with nature. As is true for many other volunteers, helping with this project gave me the chance to work outdoors purposefully, in a way I had never been able to before.