Rare Blanding’s to be released in the spring

NEWS

Rare Blanding’s to be released in the spring

George W. Rhodes
Sun Chronicle Staff

Posted Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:00 am

 

DIGHTON – For the second consecutive year, students at Bristol County Agricultural High School will be caring for a crop of baby Blanding’s turtles in an effort to increase the population of the species considered to be rare and threatened in the state.

Seventy-nine of the half-dollar size hard-shelled turtles were delivered to the school’s Natural Resources Management Department Tuesday.

Students will feed and care for the turtles until they are big enough to survive on their own in the wild next spring. They are all marked to allow scientists to follow them well into the future.

Last year the school released 73 of the amphibians after nurturing them all fall and winter.

The program is headed up by Kurt Buhlmann, a professor with the University of Georgia who won a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 to figure out how to save a variety of threatened turtle species throughout the nation.

Buhlmann is managing 10 turtle replenishment efforts in different areas of the country, including one to repopulate the Blanding’s turtles at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury.

“We’re trying to be proactive and re-establish the populations where we have the opportunity,” he said.

The baby turtles came from Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge in Ayer, which has a larger and stronger population of the turtles.

The program is a collaborative effort of the University of Georgia, Bristol Aggie, Oxbow Associates Inc. headed up by Brian Butler and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Brian Bastarache, who’s in charge of the effort for Bristol Aggie, said students will feed, water and clean the turtles every day and weigh and measure them once a week to monitor their progress.

The program is headed up by Kurt Buhlmann, a professor with the University of Georgia who won a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 to figure out how to save a variety of threatened turtle species throughout the nation.

The process is called “head-starting,” and allows the hatchlings to grow during their first winter when they would normally be hibernating.

The extra growth allows them to better fend off predators and other threats, Bastarache said.

Some of them will be equipped with radio transmitters when they’re released to further track their progress.

Zack Cava of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of slogging through the marshes of Massachusetts to track the amphibians.

According to information found on The Nature Conservancy’s website, Blanding’s turtles reach sexual maturity between the ages of 12 and 18 years and may live to be 77 years old.

They are mostly carnivorous and are described as shy and especially vulnerable to death by auto because they travel overland between hibernation and nesting sites.

Blanding’s turtles have become rare due to increased attacks by coyotes, illegal poaching for pets and motor vehicles, Bastarache said.

“Roads are a turtle-killing grid, he said.