Endangered Baby Turtles Rescued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
As part of a global wildlife-trafficking issue that is growing exponentially, 22 tiny baby turtles - likely destined for soup pots in China - were recently rescued and brought to a nursery at the SoundWaters Coastal Education Center, where they are being coddled and cared for after a harrowing, near-smuggling experience.
Now thriving, the 1-to-2-inch elegantly patterned, diamondback terrapins will be introduced to Connecticut during a special Media Open House, on Wednesday, Feb. 11, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (snow date, Feb. 12, 2015, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Address: Cove Island Park, 1281 Cove Rd.
Last fall, 211 baby turtles that had been stuffed into boots - with little air and no room to move - were confiscated from international smugglers in Alaska. In December, once they were stabilized, the turtles were shipped to permanent new homes at SoundWaters and 13 other facilities across the U.S.
Turtle soup is considered a delicacy in China, where there is a lucrative market for the main ingredient. In the U.S., a fondness for turtle soup led to the near extinction of the diamondback terrapin - the only marine species of turtle native to Connecticut - by the 1930s. Thanks to U.S. state and federal environmental regulations, terrapins are now a protected species and have been returning to their native habitats in recent years.
But, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Public Affairs Chief, Gavin Shire, the scourge of wildlife trafficking is increasing. "As the population of wild turtles has been depleted in Asia, the demand for North American turtles has increased." He adds, "Wildlife trafficking involves people in the U.S., as well, not just faceless, international criminals."
SoundWaters President Leigh Shemitz, Ph.D. says most smuggled wild animals face a disastrous end. "This is one of those rare poaching cases with a very happy ending, and the journey isn't over." She adds that the rescued terrapins cannot be released back into the wild, so SoundWaters is now their permanent home. "Diamondback terrapins have a lifespan of up to 40 years, so Connecticut and New York residents can follow each chapter of this success story for decades to come. Our terrapins, and our students, will grow together."
SoundWaters was selected to receive the 22 hatchlings because of its existing terrapin program and membership in the Diamondback Terrapin Working Group, a body of academic, scientific, regulatory and private institutions and organizations working to protect the species. With the call that the terrapins needed a home, the SoundWaters Coastal Education Center quickly set up an intensive-care nursery for the 22 fragile and travel-weary creatures.
Every day, SoundWaters staff and interns take meticulous care of the terrapins, recording each animal's weight, food intake, medications, etc. and any other observations. They even brought the turtles to their homes during the late January blizzard, in case of power outages on Cove Island, where SoundWaters is located.
Media Open House Details: During their debut appearance, the hatchlings will be seen taking their afternoon swim, a few will be treated with medications, and all will dine on a mixture of scallops, blood worms and silverside minnows. SoundWaters staff members will be on hand to answer reporter's questions and explain the vital role the terrapins are already playing in the education of Connecticut students. An open house for the public will be announced once the hatchlings are more established, in the spring.