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Declining Turtle Population Prompts Awareness Initiative

DEP declares 2011 the year of the turtle.

The recent announcement by the state's Department of Environmental Protection that 2011 is the year of the turtle (and tortoises) runs contrary to the Chinese zodiac and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which both declare this to be the year of the hare.

The announcement is not indicative of a shake-down of the state's wildlife department but a "friendly face-off" to raise awareness of Connecticut's native turtle population, according to Julie Victoria, the department's biologist in charge of the turtle program.

"A lot of people don't even know what turtles we have here," she said.

There are 12 species of turtles native to Connecticut, seven of which are listed as endangered or of special concern, according to the DEP website. The biggest threat to Connecticut turtles is the loss or damage of their habitat.

"Turtles have a small home range," said Victoria. "They don't realize that the roads are a dangerous place."

Road fatalities typically happen to adult turtles that are crossing roadways looking for food or a nesting ground. The loss of one turtle old enough to reproduce is a big loss to the turtle population because it takes about 12 years for turtles to become sexually mature. In general, the turtle population is declining, according to the Partnership for Amphibian and Reptiles Conservation, which says that 50 percent of the world's turtle species are endangered for extinction. Connecticut's situation is not that dire, according to Victoria.

The DEP has planned a series of turtle awareness initiatives this year such as a children's art contest, a Turtle Day in June and other events. Log on to the website for more information.

Nearby Places To See Turtles

The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center currently has six species of native turtles. The rehabilitation center houses musk turtles, spotted turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, box turtles and a diamondback terrapin.

The Mystic Aquarium has two of the four marine turtles that have been known to swim through the Long Island Sound. None of the turtles inhabit the water year around, because it is too cold, but the aquarium does raise two new juvenile Loggerheads each year before sending them back to North Carolina, and they have a resident green sea turtle named Charlotte.

Janelle Schuh, the aquarium’s stranding coordinator, said she has rescued all types of sea turtles, which get “cold stunned” if they don’t leave the cold New England waters by late fall.

The aquarium is hosting Crittercam, a National Geographic exhibit that features underwater videos filmed by green sea turtles. National Geographic researchers attached a camera to the shells of green sea turtles and other marine animals with the hopes to learn more about the animals.

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