Saving Turtles

Poole Fellow Genevieve Bleidner '09 studies Diamondback Terrapins on Earthwatch Expedition

12/8/2008

Every day there was something new to discover. In the evening after we had come in to anchor the boat. I saw about a dozen cone jellyfish illuminated by our flashlights drifting in the water. I was amazed at their delicate movements, floating and then falling, and then disappearing from view.

"I spent spent nine days last summer living and assisting in field research of the diamondback terrapins of Barnegat Bay," explains Poole Fellow Genevieve Bleidner ’09. "Volunteers from all over the world came in and participated in studying the world’s most attractive and colorful turtles. Diamondback terrapins are the only U.S. turtles that inhabit the brackish waters of estuaries, tidal creeks, and salt marshes."

As an Earthwatch volunteer and under the supervision of Dr. Hal Avery, a scientist from Drexel University, she assisted in measuring turtles, monitoring nest temperatures for rates of destruction caused by predation and flooding. She also helped trap, sein, and dip-net turtles.

"At 5 a.m. I get up ready to head out into the mucky waters wearing my waders!" she says. "You must move fast, otherwise you’ll get sucked in up to your knees. Around noon I am processing the newly captured Terrapin. I record information such as its weight, sex, age, width, and length. If I notice any abnormalities, I mark that down as well. We age the Terrapins by counting the ridges starting from the birth plate outwards. If the ridges are too smooth, their age cannot be determined. We spend the rest of the day recording the date, time, trap number, weather conditions, GPS coordinates, and number of turtles captured. It’s midnight and my shift are up to record the salinity of the water along with the temperature. Day two we learn that each time a terrapin swims by an underwater acoustic receiver, information is recorded. We then use the information collected by the receiver to determine where a terrapin is, how far it moves, and how long it takes to move from one location to another."

The long-term goal of this 30-year research project is to determine the population status and viability of the Diamondback Terrapin in relation to natural and anthropogenic changes in Barnegat Bay.

"It was serendipitous when my team was chosen for the film documentary by Bahati Productions in which Bob Poole’s son was the photographer," says Gen. "Bahati is a Swahili word that means lucky. It’s an apt name for this set of circumstances. I felt extremely lucky to be awarded this fellowship in memory of Robert Keyes Poole’s lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment."

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