NAFTRG Conducts Turtle Sampling Trip in Florida

by Eric Munscher 

Eric_and_Irene_with_43lb_softshellThe 14th annual spring Florida park sampling was a success despite harsh weather and atypical conditions. The NAFTRG sampled Manatee, Fanning, and Peacock Springs March 22-24, 2013. At the time of survey southern Georgia, where the Okefenokee Swamp gives rise to the Suwannee River, was heavily impacted by over 18 inches of rain. This extreme amount of water in a short period of time swelled the Suwannee River enough that it flooded numerous springs along the its course through northwestern panhandle of Florida. Amoung those parks were Manatee, Fanning, and Peacock Springs. We were completely flooded out of Fanning and Peacock. Dark river water made visibility in both parks impossible.  This same flood made us lose over half of our study site in Manatee Springs and also brought in 15 manatees into the park - a situation that has never happened in the four years of sampling the park.  Despite all of this, we still captured 80 turtles representing five species in two days.

Blue_Springs_manatees_1The research crew moved down to Wekiwa Springs on March 24 and sampled this park March 25-30. We broke our all-time single day record the first day of sampling catching 170 turtles representing seven species. The second day we captured another 94 turtles. The night of day two a record low cold front moved into the area and dropped temperature down into the mid-30s for the rest of the week. These temperatures were seven degrees lower than the previously recorded low for this time period. We would get into the water around 8:00 am, when the air temperature was 38 degrees! While the water is a comfortable 72 degrees year round, the air temperature certainly impacted the activity levels of the reptiles in the area. Our capture success dropped significantly. We ended up catching 43 turtles the third day and another 30 turtles the following two last days. We typically sample Blue Spring during three of the days that we sample Wekiwa Springs. This cold front brought in over 120 manatees back into Blue Spring (Which is Florida‚Äôs largest manatee refugee) which made sampling almost impossible.  In addition to the presence of so many manatees, the crew also had close encounters with two large gators (around nine feet and twelve feet in length), whose presence just so happened to be in areas of high turtle success in the past.

Regardless of the harsh conditions we had to endure, we still ended up catching 453 turtles representing eight species. The next sampling even for our Florida parks will be at the end of July. Dates are posted on the website.