NAFTRG Celebrates 16 Years of Sampling in Florida

by Eric Munscher 

The North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (NAFTRG) kicked off its sixteenth year of sampling in Florida at Ichetucknee Springs on March 21-22. 

The NAFTRG had members from Pennsylvania, Washington, and Georgia (Jekyll Island) join forces once again with a devoted team of researchers from Santa Fe College lead by Dr. Jerry Johnston and Joe Mitchell. In two days of sampling, the team was able to capture and process 451 turtles representing seven species. This was an incredible effort from all parties involved! While the Ichetucknee Springs sample was occurring, the NAFTRG had a separate team of researchers sampling Volusia Blue Spring. There, members from Florida, Georgia, and a class from Peninsula College in Washington (led by Dr. Brian Hauge) captured 112 turtles in two days. A number of those had not seen at Blue Springs since 2011.

On March 23-25, the two teams came together to sample Wekiwa Springs State Park. With help from local Wekiva River Ambassador, Virginia Oros, and her canoe volunteers the group was able to capture 296 turtles representing nine species. This was our sixteenth year at Wekiwa Springs and many of the turtles that we captured were turtles that we had marked in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Turtles that we had not seen for 12+ years! Once the sampling at Wekiwa was complete, the group drove to Weeki Wachee Springs - the land of the mermaids.

Weeki Wachee Springs is a brand new park to the NAFTRG, just added to our permit in 2015. This first magnitude spring was absolutely stunning with crystal clear blue water and spring run of more than five miles that terminates in the Gulf of Mexico. This park had been a private resort before 2008 and no one has ever done turtle sampling here. This first sample was as much a reconnaissance trip as it was a true turtle sampling session. We were joined here by TSA member Dr. Elizabeth Walton and were able to capture 230 turtles (representing 11 species), five of which were new county records.

Lastly, the NAFTRG ended its trip at Manatee and Fanning Springs, where they were able to capture 96 turtles (72 at Manatee and 24 at Fanning). In nine days of continuous sampling, the NAFTRG was able to capture and process more than 1,180 turtles in six state park springs. The trip was an amazing success and a model for collaboration and group work. Projects like this one have only been able to continue for sixteen years due to the continuous support of our volunteers. The next sampling trip will be in May at Comal Springs (New Braunfels, Texas), followed by a summer sample in Florida in late July. Click here to find out how you can join us!