DEEP: 2011 Is the Year of the Turtle

February 22, 2011
 
2011 Is the Year of the Turtle
DEP plans to increase awareness of turtle conservation in Connecticut

Turtles are in trouble. Because of the issues surrounding turtles and the need to raise awareness, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), of which the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been a member since 1999, has proclaimed 2011 as the Year of the Turtle. Through outreach efforts to researchers, educators, natural resource managers, and the public, the "Year of the Turtle" campaign aims to increase U.S. involvement in local-to-national turtle issues. State and federal wildlife agencies, along with several conservation and turtle organizations, are partnering with PARC to help spread the word about the plight of turtles.

"The DEP Wildlife Division also has made a commitment to inform Connecticut residents about the stateís native turtles through monthly press releases, articles and species profiles in issues of our bimonthly magazine, Connecticut Wildlife, a childrenís art contest, and related events," said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEP Wildlife Division.

Currently, 328 species of turtles are known worldwide -- 57 (20% of the world's turtle species) are found in the United States and Canada. The United States has more native turtle species than any other country; it is a turtle biodiversity hotspot. Twelve turtle species (including four sea turtles) occur in Connecticut. Seven of these turtles are currently on the state's List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species.

 Connecticut's Native Turtle Species 
 
 Bog Turtle (endangered)  Common Musk Turtle
 Eastern Box Turtle (special concern)   Common Snapping Turtle 
 Wood Turtle (special concern)  Painted Turtle
 Atlantic Green Sea Turtle (threatened)   Spotted Turtle
 Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle (endangered)     Northern Diamondback Terrapin   
 Northern Diamondback Terrapin  
 Leatherback Sea Turtle (endangered)
 Loggerhead Sea Turtle (threatened)  

Turtles (which include tortoises) occur in fresh water, salt water, and on land. Their shells make them some of the most distinctive animals on Earth. Turtles are typically slow creatures. This isnít limited to their speed; they also grow slowly. It may take 10-15 years before individuals of some species can reproduce. A thriving turtle population relies on turtles surviving many years, if not decades. But if a population loses adults and begins to decline, a slow recovery can be expected. Because of these "slow" characteristics, the primary threats to turtles are intensified.

Threats to U.S. Turtles

Humans cause the largest harm to turtle populations, but we have the power to make positive changes toward turtle survival. The largest threats to turtle populations include:

  • Habitat loss and degradation;
  • Overharvest of wild turtles for food, traditional medicines, and pets;
  • Mortality from roads, agricultural machinery, fishing by catch, and predators;
  • Exotic invasive species and diseases;
  • Loss of unique genetic makeup due to hybridization; and
  • Climate change.

Conservation Action Can Help

Careful stewardship and conservation action can successfully slow or reduce the declining trend of turtles. Because turtles can respond well to population management and conservation, it is not too late to preserve our turtle heritage. Three basic approaches for species conservation include:

  1. Protecting rare species and their habitats;
  2. Managing common turtle species and their habitats so that they remain common; and
  3. Managing crisis situations, such as species in peril from acute hazards, such as oil spills.

Important progress is already being made in the United States. The freshwater turtle science and conservation community, in conjunction with state and federal wildlife agencies, recently developed recommendations for managing freshwater and land turtle populations. These recommendations include better monitoring and tracking of turtle harvests, as well as the need for more long-term population studies on wild turtles.

Look for more information to come about turtles and turtle conservation in Connecticut. One of the best ways to learn more about turtles during the "Year of the Turtle" is to subscribe to the DEPís Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/dep/wildlifemagazine). You also can visit PARCís Web site at www.yearoftheturtle.org, as well as the Year of the Turtle page on the DEPís Web site (www.ct.gov/dep/yearofturtle).

What Is PARC?

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) is an inclusive partnership dedicated to the conservation of the herpetofauna--reptiles and amphibians--and their habitats. Membership comes from all walks of life and includes individuals from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, museums, pet trade industry, nature centers, zoos, energy industry, universities, herpetological organizations, research laboratories, forest industries, and environmental consultants. The diversity of its membership makes PARC the most comprehensive conservation effort ever undertaken for amphibians and reptiles. PARC is habitat focused, and centers on endangered and threatened species and keeping common native species common.