Turtle returns to wetlands group that saved her 19 years ago
STONE HARBOR, N.J. (AP) — Call it serendipity.
That’s the only way to explain how a female terrapin was found crossing a street in Stone Harbor on July 12 and brought back to the same conservation institute that rescued her as an egg, almost 19 years later to the day.
A concerned woman found the turtle on Second Avenue between 102nd and 103rd Street and brought her to The Wetlands Institute, a non-profit coastal and wetlands conservation organization, which returned the turtle to the marsh. The Institute made a post on its Facebook page on Monday to celebrate the turtle’s resiliency.
It’s a mystery how the terrapin got on the road, according to Devin Griffiths, a marketing and communications specialist at the Institute.
“When she was found, there was no obvious access to the marsh on either side of the road,” he said. “So we’re not sure why she was there. She was in a really odd place.”
Griffiths said he thinks the unusual location is why the woman brought her in, since most people in the area know what to do if they find a terrapin on the road — gently pick up the turtle and put them in the direction they were headed, since ”(the turtles are) very specific about where they want to go.”
However, the turtle was not new to the Institute. She was a head-starter turtle, which are typically hatched from eggs that were recovered from a road-kill female on her way to lay her eggs, according to Griffiths.
The conservation organization incubates and hatches the rescued eggs, keeping them for a year. They receive PIT tags, or Passive Integrated Transponder tags, which are placed under the skin to be read. The tags help researchers know the turtle’s age and other information, and helped identify this recent female turtle as a former head-starter.
“And after a year, when they grow a bit and get stronger, we release them back into the marsh,” he said. “We give them a head start into their journey into the marsh.”
This particular turtle’s tag read July 13, 2000, which may be the date she was released, or it could be the date she was tagged, Griffiths said. She also had two distinct previous injuries — a notch on the top of her shell and one on the underside — that were possibly from boat propellers. Both injuries had healed well and she was healthy, the post said.
“For all the terrapins who don’t make it, this beautiful girl represents hope,” the post said. “Her journey is a testament to the value of the critical conservation work we do, and the role we all play in ensuring a future for these incredible creatures.”
Since the Institute aims to promote appreciation and understanding of the coastal and wetland ecosystems, Griffiths said the woman who brought the turtle in was aware of how turtles are handled, which is exactly what they hope for people to know.
He advised caution when driving near the marsh, since the terrapins can be hard to see and move faster than people realize. Female terrapins are sometimes struck by cars when they cross the road to lay their eggs on land, which makes them most vulnerable while nesting.
“Things can happen very, very quickly,” he said. “When you’re driving through marsh on both sides, slow down and keep your eyes open.”
The Wetlands Institute also works with nearby schools to promote wildlife and coastal conservation through education programs. The kindergarten class at Stone Harbor Elementary School releases turtles into the marsh with the Institute’s help, an esteemed tradition that has occurred every year since 1999.
Griffiths said the two employees who brought the wandering terrapin in the Institute were thrilled to tell him about it. “It’s very rewarding,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience to see the work does have a payoff and we are making a difference.”
Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com