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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

Miracle on Round Island — 17 May 2001

It’s been a tough few days.  The number of nests explored by predators and found containing desiccated remains has continued to climb.  Six more in the last three days, accounting for another 75 dead hatchlings.  Most of the turtles had pipped, presumably in the fall, but remained in their split shells and underground over the long, cold winter.


The nests I’ve excavated since Tuesday been heavily invaded by vegetation.  The eggs and hatchlings were penetrated and had been preyed upon by roots, perhaps to exploit their moisture during this springtime drought.  The last nest I discovered today, over on Round Island in the midst of Lieutenant Island’s nursery marsh, held 16 eggs.  At the top of the nest chamber, hatchlings were smothered in roots.


As I gently explored the walls of the nest with my fingertips, I found a turtle outside it egg shell and severely deformed on its right side — as though roots had constricted its growth.  Her eyes were closed and I thought I had uncovered the sixteenth dead hatchling.  But to my utter astonishment, as I lifted her from the nest, she moved her forelimbs to rub her eyes.

It is an incredible miracle that, at only 2.75 centimeters long and weighing just 6 grams, she survived predation (both root and coyote), dehydration, and deformation.  What a zest for life!  We dubbed her “Knotch” and brought her back to the lab to improve her chances of survival — as though she needs our help.


After soaking in fresh water and warming under a heat lamp in my makeshift lab, Knotch became fully active without showing the slightest effect of her deformity.  We’ll hold her until the weather returns to seasonal and then release her back into the Lieutenant Island marsh.

To top off a miracle day, AmeriCorps volunteers, working on the horseshoe crab research project in Blackfish Creek, were surprised by a terrapin pair swimming by them.  They ploshed after the male, but he deftly maneuvered into deeper water.  The 11-year-old mature female, weighing just over a kilo, was snagged by Katie.  Not seen previously, she now sports the marking #1070.