BIG TURTLE YEAR IS NEARLY OVER
George Heinrich pulled up the trap and announced that a turtle was inside,
we were both ecstatic. I knew it had to be a tiny one as the funnel
opening into the minnow trap was only an inch wide. When we saw the
little stinkpot musk turtle peeking its black head with four yellow
stripes from beneath a leaf, you would think from our excitement we
had landed a 100-pound alligator snapper. We had been searching for
reptiles and amphibians for three days and had caught four snakes and
dozens of salamanders. This was our first turtle.
George stopped by for a visit, he was on the last leg of a quest to
complete the Big Turtle Year.
The program, sponsored by the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust, is
designed to raise awareness about the rich diversity, ecology,
and conservation needs of turtle species found in the United States.
Like so many other native wildlife groups, turtles can use all the attention
and support they can get.
is home to about 60 species of turtles. Most turtle biologists these
days consider the actual number of native ones to be 59, although some
quibble over whether certain ones are really a single species or should
be recognized as two. But all agree we have lots of different kinds
of turtles. Most are in the Southeast. Alabama and Mississippi share
the record with 30 each. Regrettably, population numbers for many of
these species are declining because of various environmental threats.
Bringing attention to the animals themselves which is what George
Heinrichs Big Turtle Year is intended to do is the first
step toward conservation solutions.
Turtle Year is fashioned after the highly successful Big Year. Initiated
in the 1930s by ornithologists, it has become highly competitive. The
goal is to see how many different kinds of birds can be found in a specific
area over a given time period. George and the organizers of the turtle
program strongly encourage others to see how many turtle species
they can locate in their state or geographic region during a single
calendar year. Birds and turtles have little in common superficially,
but the Big Turtle Year and its avian counterpart strive to achieve
conservation goals for both groups of animals. The intent is to make
the public aware of the presence and ecological importance of our native
wildlife and both focus on a distinct component of our natural heritage.
are indigenous only to certain regions across the country and special
effort is required to locate them in the wild. For example, the flattened
musk turtle, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act, is found
only in central Alabama. Finding desert tortoises entails a trip to
the Southwest. Blandings turtles are restricted mostly to the
Midwest and Northeast. On his quest to find as many U.S. turtles as
possible, Georges travels took him on field trips from Florida
to Texas, New England to California, the Carolinas to Michigan. Each
trip lasted a week to 10 days. Because he had to travel to different
regions to find certain species, his strategy was to maximize
species diversity at the fewest locations possible to reduce costs.
Clearly, dedication and enthusiasm are key ingredients for taking on
such an adventure.
a baby stinkpot turtle did not add to George Heinrichs list because
he had already caught one earlier in his travels. However, we challenged
the record for the smallest turtle he found. During his yearlong adventure
he located 54 different species of U.S. turtles. His excitement at finding
turtles has not diminished over time, and I was glad to be part of his
search. Consider participating in a Big Turtle Year of your own. You
neednt crisscross the country like George did but if you
get caught up in the challenge, who knows where the hunt will take you.
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