Archive for January, 2009

Tropical Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle on Ice

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Sue Wieber Nourse Holds Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley

In the middle of an Arctic blast bringing some of the rawest, coldest conditions to the Outer Cape in several years, a tiny Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was discovered frozen in a cove off Blackfish Creek in South Wellfleet.  Weighing in at 1500 grams, this one-and-a-half to two-year-old juvenile arrived too late in the season for any plausible chance of rescue, but it will add information to the collaborative research effort to learn more about this rarest sea turtle in the world in order to prevent future losses.

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Alison Palmer Interviewed by Sue Wieber Nourse

Alison Palmer of Old Wharf peninsula in South Wellfleet spotted seagulls pecking at an object in the cove beneath her home on Blackfish Creek.  At first she thought the birds had stumbled onto one of the carcasses from dophin strandings over the last few weeks.  Alison bundled warmly and braved frozen conditions to struggle down her steep bank to the shore.  She found a “heart shaped” carapace, indicative of a Kemp’s ridley, and she retrieved it from the wrack line.  As Alison notes in her interview, this turtle represented her first Kemp’s ridley in many years of watching out for these critically endangered critters.  As an aside, Alison is always the first person to report diamondback terrapin awakenings each spring as they appear in the protected cove below her cottage.

Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Measurements

After we recovered the Kemp’s ridley from Alison, the Turtle Journal team brought it to Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  The triage center has mostly been broken down for the season, as conditions make the rescue of a live tropical or semi-tropical sea turtle more than a miracle.  Still, we delivered the turtle to the wet lab, and we measured, weighed and documented the animal’s condition.  Results are shown in the image above.


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Waves Flash Freeze on Frigid Wellfleet Beach

You’ve heard our description of frigid conditions and you’ve read our tales of waves “flash freezing” on the beach as soon as they touch the frozen sand and are exposed to the Arctic air.  We suspect many have chuckled at these fish stories, thinking, “It couldn’t really be THAT cold.”  For those who haven’t felt an Arctic blast on bare skin, for those who haven’t seen ice floes sealing harbors shut, for those who haven’t witnessed waves freezing in place as the tide floods in with the full moon, we offer this video of Wellfleet Harbor at the zenith of “warmth” this afternoon at 1 o’clock.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida – Nature Center

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Conservancy of Southwest Florida: Knight Anole

Nature Center

Inside the nature center at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, you find live displays and informational exhibits that showcase the varied animals and the rare habitats of southwest Florida.  The center’s reach stretches geographically from Naples in the north to the Everglades in the south; it spans habitats from woodsy uplands; through fresh water ecosystems, estuarine mangrove channels and protected bays; to Gulf beaches, inter-tidal shorelines, Everglade marshlands and tropical reefs.  A very rich, exquisitely beautiful, but extremely fragile set of habitats and ecosystems. 

Florida Mud Turtle 

Fresh water tanks illustrate the variety of flora and fauna unique to southwest Florida ecosystems, all extremely sensitive to human overuse and abuse of the aquifer and the watershed.

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Fresh Water Tank with Gator and Red-Eared Slider

No visit to the nature center would be complete without admiring the antics of a Florida gator.  One wonders, though, whether the red-eared slider and the fish earn a dangerous pay bonus for sharing a tank and ecosytem with the gator.

Display Tanks Integrated Among “Red Mangroves”

A section of the nature center captures the brackish, estuarine ecosystem with display tanks woven among red mangroves.

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Diamondback Terrapins in Brackish Estuarine Tank

Who else would be more at home among the mangrove roots than the diamondback terrapin?

Conservancy Touch Tank of Back Bay and Shoreline Critters

Moving to saltier habitats, the nature center sports a large touch tank with illustrative critters from protected bays and the inter-tidal zone along shore lines. 

Loggerhead Sea Turtle ( Caretta caretta) Nest Exhibit

Along the Gulf beaches of southwest Florida, loggerhead sea turtles come ashore each spring through summer to lay nests above the high water line.  The eggs incubate for an average of about two months and hatchlings generally emerge at night to head for the “brightest horizon,” which normally means the sea … unless a callous business or homeowner blares bright lights during the hatching season.

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Juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Tropical Tank 

While not currently in the nature center, juvenile loggerheads (Caretta caretta) have graced the tropical tank.  When present, they are a wonder to observe.  The juvenile in the video was two or three years old in the first clip, but had obviously grown a couple of years by the end of the video.  Large loggerheads present a challenge for rehabilitators.  They are rather jealously possessive of their own tank and brook no rivals.  So, as they grow it increases the incentive for their return to the wild.

The Conservancy Is Committed toTurtle Conservation

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is committed to endangered turtle conservation.  Many exhibits and posters document the work of the Conservancy throughout this area.  When you visit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Turtle Journal recommends that you plan an extended stay to savor everything it has to offer.  For children from five to one hundred five, there’s unlimited opportunities for exploration and discovery.

Return to Turtle Journal soon to go behind the scenes of the Conservancy’s animal hospital to learn about rescue and rehabilitation of endangered and injured animals.  

Conservancy of Southwest Florida – Water Adventure

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Three’s Company

The Turtle Journal team has been exploring the Conservancy of Southwest Florida  in Naples for several decades.  And each time we visit, we learn new things about the complex and delicate ecosystems of the area, and the multiple initiatives of the Conservancy to protect southwest Florida habitats, to save endangered species and to rescue injured animals.  In the next few posting, we will explore with you the Conservancy in three parts.

#1. Water Adventure: Conservancy Electric Boat

First, we will bring you on a water adventure through the estuarine channels of Naples, Florida leading to the Gulf of Mexico.

#2. Nature Center: Diamondback Terrapin

Next, we’ll explore the Conservancy’s Nature Center where you find a wide variety of local species and tons of information about the southwest Florida ecosystem and habitats.

#3. Animal Hospital: Treatment Room

Finally, we will take you behind the scenes of the Conservancy’s animal hospital where the staff works magic to rescue and rehabilitate injured critters.

Water Adventure

“Welcome to the Conservancy”

Twisting and turning like an aquatic labyrinth, estuarine channels of Naples’ back bay showcase a wide variety of wildlife among abutting mangrove banks and islands.  Whether an irascible waterfowl quacking solo, a duet of predatory ospreys, …

Osprey Duet

.. or a the trio of basking turtles (see above), you may find treasures around every bend.  But keep a sharp eye because they’re all camouflaged beyond recognition by mere mortals!

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Conservancy of SW Florida Water Adventure Part I

Come for a ride on the Conservancy’s electric boat to explore the estuarine channels of the back bay.

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Conservancy of SW Florida Water Adventure Part I

Return to Turtle Journal soon to see the second article in this series as we go inside the Conservancy’s nature center.

Sea Turtles Nesting Among Mayan Ruins

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


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Green Sea Turtle Foraging off Caribbean Reef

On Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, south of Cancun and southwest of Cozumel stand the most famous Mayan coastal ruins at Tulum.  Erected in the late 12th or early 13th century and occupied until well after the arrival of Europeans, Tulum is a fortified Mayan seaport on the Caribbean Sea.

Mayan Ruins at Tulum from the Sea

Mayans located Tulum at a break in the surrounding reefs, so that a lighted signal from the watch tower could safely guide vessels to its harbor.

Map of Walled Mayan Seaport ofTulum

First mentioned by a Spanish expedition in 1518, Tulum was described as a city rivaling Seville.  One can image how impressive these structures might appear to European explorers sailing along the Yucatan coast.  After weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean’s stormy grayness, then perhaps spotting a primitive village or two on an isolated island, Spanish sailors would be confronted by towering stone palaces and temples in the midst of lush, endless nothingness.  Situated on 40 foot rock cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Tulum would seem to these sailors as shocking as our finding a twin of New York City in the middle of the Amazon jungle.  The experience would be completely and unbelievably out of context.

Tulum Beach

Surely not as impressed as the Spaniards, sea turtles have been using the beaches around Tulum as nesting habitat for tens of millions of years before humans ever thought of occupying the Americas.  Green and loggerhead sea turtles continue to nest in the shadow of the Mayans.  They forage in the reefs along the Yucatan coast, mate in waters off Yucatan beaches and come ashore from May through October, usually at night, to nest.

How fleeting are the works of man!  In just a few hundred years, humans flee and buildings crumble, while sea turtles return millennia after millennia after millennia to the same nesting spot from whence they emerged. 

“Sea Turtle Nesting Area” at Tulum

Diamondback terrapin volunteer researcher extraordinaire Becky Okrent, a Lieutenant Island and Manhattan Island resident, recently visited Akumal, Mexico.  While in the Yucatan, she stopped by Tulum and snapped the photograph above of an “area de desove de a tortuga marina” (sea turtle nesting area) that she described as “nestled in between the Mayan ruins.”  The last time I visited Tulum in the early 1980s there were no sea turtle exclusion areas.  It’s nice to see that naturalists from Centro Ecologico Akumal have instituted sea turtle research and conservation measures in the Tulum area.

Becky Okrent Excavates Terrapin Hatchlings on Lieutenant Island

Turtle Journal applauds Becky Okrent for her outstanding work in rescuing diamondback terrapin hatchlings on Lieutenant Island in the late summer and fall, and also for her photographic documentation this winter of sea turtle nesting areas amidst the Mayan ruins at Tulum.  It’s tough work spending summers on Lieutenant Island and winters on the Mayan Riviera, but someone has to do it.  Hats off to Becky!

Seasons Greetings from Turtle Journal Central

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Turtle Journal Central on New Year’s Eve

Heavy snow blanketed the Great White North throughout the holiday season with a half foot of fresh powder falling on New Year’s Eve.  Roads assume a Currier & Ives appearance as towns cut back on ploughing, sanding and salting.  A half inch of compacted, icy snow coats the asphalt and absent a significant warm-up, it would take a pile-driver to reach clear roadway.  So, let’s kick back and savor a throwback holiday and enjoy the pristine quality of a traditional season.

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Snowfall Throughout Holiday Season

New snow began falling nine in the morning on New Year’s Eve and continued into the early morning hours of 2009.  The still beauty of the night inspired me to don boots, wool cap and gloves to capture Turtle Journal Central precisely at midnight.

NO FAIR! — “Sandy” the Fake Snowman

The better half of the Turtle Journal Team sent this seasonal photograph from the sunny, near 80 degree beach in Naples, Florida.  It may look like snow, but there is a fundamental difference between silicon dioxide (sand) and dihydrogen monoxide (water).  They may both be malleable solids, but one is warm and the other is freezing.  No fair!  Seashell eyes and buttons do not conform to Currier & Ives “snowman” standards.  The top hat must be black and there’s no carrot nose for the reindeer.  Sandy is a pale imitation of Frosty.

Welcome Mat at Turtle Journal Central

No matter weather or condition, the welcome mat is always out at Turtle Journal Central as we, the Turtle Journal Team, wish you an exciting year of discovery in 2009.