Massachusetts isn’t home to many endangered species, but one, the Blanding’s turtle, is on the “threatened” list. On Monday, middle school students and Mass Audubon released two Blanding’s turtles they incubated. They hope giving the turtles a healthy start will help them thrive, and reproduce, in the wild.
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury is a massive landscape of fresh water and cattails stretching along the Concord and Sudbury Rivers.
Emilie Schuler is with Grassroots Wildlife Conservation. She’s pulling a turtle trap out of the water with the help of 8th graders from Mansfield’s Qualters Middle School. Inside the netting are four crawling turtles – they’re hissing and snapping.
This refuge is home to thousands of painted and snapping turtles, but it’s rare to catch – or even glimpse - a Blanding’s turtle. The population has dwindled since the 1970s. They’ve lost habitat and been hit by cars.
“We estimate that there’s probably only about 50 adults left here at Great Meadows and across all of Massachusetts, only about a thousand,” Schuler said.
So, the students have been incubating two juvenile Blanding’s turtles in a classroom for the past 9 months, and are releasing them here. Andrew Walsh is one eighth-grader whose class worked with Mass Audubon on the project.
“We’ve been taking observations of their height, their weight and their eating habits. We’ve had them nine months. They’ve grown like nine times in size.”
Walsh says that with a natural diet of mealworms, the turtles should be able to find food on their own.
“I think they’re going to be pretty good. They’ll probably just dash off. I think they’ll survive for awhile and keep the species alive.”
Blanding’s turtles are a small part of the ecosystem here, but they eat a significant amount of plant life and aquatic bugs. The have a relatively large, dark shell with tiny white spots. Their throats are bright yellow. Schuler finally found a female, teenage turtle to show the students.
“We’re actually going to be putting a radio on her today so we can track her over the next few years. So that we can be ready when she does become and adult and start laying her own eggs. We want to know where the females are laying their eggs so we can protect their nests.”
And then it will be a matter of keeping them in the refuge, and off local roads.
Naturalist Tia Pinney discussed Mass Audubon's Blanding's turtle "head start" program on Greater Boston: