NAFTRG Conducts Surveys in Florida and Expands its Reach

by Eric Munscher 

The 14th annual summer Florida park sampling occurred during late July despite extremely harsh weather and atypical conditions. The NAFTRG sampled Manatee Springs July 19-21, 2013. Prior to, and during, our visit to Manatee Springs,  the Suwannee River drainage area  was subjected to torrential rain. The Suwannee River swelled its banks and flooded much of the surrounding area including Manatee Springs State Park. We lost over 80% of our study site to dark river water. Despite the harsh conditions and loss of sampling area the crew was still able to capture and process 80 turtles representing five species. This extreme amount of water in a short period of time swelled the Suwannee River enough that it flooded, and caused the closure of our other two sites, Fanning and Peacock Springs. Dark river water made visibility in both parks impossible. 

Not deterred, the research crew moved down to Wekiwa and Blue Springs from July 22-26. The same intense, wet weather system that greatly impacted the northern parks also impacted Wekiwa and Blue Springs. Wekiwa Springs had enough rainfall to silt the study lagoon and run enough that visibility was decreased so much that in areas we literally couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We still somehow managed to capture 192 turtles at Wekiwa and another 44 at Blue Spring.

Regardless of some of the harshest conditions we had to endure in the projects 14 year time span; we still ended up catching 316 turtles representing eight species.

Other exciting news for the NAFTRG is the addition of a new sampling site in Florida. The Florida Department of Environmental Protect (FDEP) has asked NAFTRG to restart the turtle population monitoring that Dr. Peter Meylan conducted in 2007. Dr. Meylan caught over 500 turtles of eight species at Ichetucknee in four days of sampling, and estimated that somewhere between 5,000- 20,000 turtles lived in this spring system!  With the assistance of TSA Board Member Andrew Walde, the NAFTRG was able to contact long-time TSA supporter, Dr. Meylan, who graciously offered up his previous turtle data for Ichetucknee Springs. Ichetucknee Springs is one of Florida‚Äôs largest freshwater springs and an icon among Florida‚Äôs natural areas.  NAFTRG will start sampling this huge beautiful park in March 2014; save the date it is going to be an exciting and beautiful experience!