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Turtles, tortoises and terrapins among 15 species found on island

By Staff | Dec 29, 2010

A pair of diamondback terrapins are among three turtles featured in a new 220-gallon tank at the SCCF Nature Center.

One of the newest programs featured by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), entitled “The Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins of Sanibel and Captiva,” explains the lifecycle of some of the islands most intriguing inhabitants, how they have survived through millions of years and how miraculous some of these shelled creatures really are.

Dee Serage-Century, SCCF’s Living With Wildlife Education Director, told a standing room only crowd on Tuesday about many of the 15 documented turtle species found on Sanibel and Captiva, beginning with a video of newborn sea turtles swimming in the Gulf waters.

“They will be swimming now until forever, until they come ashore to lay their eggs,” said Serage-Century, pointing to the video screen. “The Foundation has invested in the protection of nesting sea turtles on Sanibel for a long time.”

Monitoring sea turtle nesting on Sanibel and Captiva began at SCCF in 1992, continuing the work of Charles LeBuff. Since the late 1980s, gopher tortoise populations have been closely monitored.

SCCF’s Johnson Track and Frannie’s Preserve are managed for the foraging needs of this species increasing their populations. Habitat management has surveyed the preserved interior wetlands compiling species lists of all island freshwater turtles.

Dee Serage-Century leads a group on a tour of the SCCF Nature Center on Tuesday. She lead a program entitled "The Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins of Sanibel and Captiva."

During her presentation, Serage-Century explained that the temperature of sea turtle nests will determine what sex the babies will be. She also detailed the various body parts of turtles — including the carapace (top) and plastron (bottom) of the reptiles — as well as what methods they incorporate for breathing, digging and flipping over.

The turtle’s shell is beneficial in many ways, she noted. It not only provides protection against predators, but it also helps regulate internal temperature, absorbing lactic acid and preventing dehydration.

Other facts provided by Serage-Century during the 45-minute program:

• Leatherbacks can dive to 3,300 feet, carry twice as much oxygen in their blood than other sea turtles and have a very high metabolism

• Walking helps snapping turtles draw in air to breathe

A Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) occupies one of the tanks.

• Soaking in the sun assists turtles in synthesizing Vitamin D and helps reduce the growth of algae and parasites

• Tortoises can go without water for up to six months, storing moisture in its bladder

Chris Lechowicz, staff herpetologist at SCCF, includes 15 different varieties of turtles found on the islands. They include the Florida softshell turtle, loggerhead, green, Kemp’s Ridley, leatherback, Florida snapping, Florida chicken, ornate diamondback terrapin, Florida redbelly, peninsula cooter, Florida box, red-eared slider, yellowbelly slider, striped mud and gopher tortoise.

The SCCF Nature Center now has a tank with live hatchlings of peninsula cooter, Florida softshell, red-eared and yellowbelly sliders, Florida and striped mud turtles as well as a snapping turtle, found by an islander in a hot tub this past summer.

Three diamondback terrapins are featured in a new 220-gallon tank at the Nature Center. This saltwater species lives in the brackish water of the mangrove creeks where they forage on shrimp, fiddler crabs and anything else they can dig up.

In a dramatic diorama scene, a bobcat confronts a gopher tortoise coming out of its nest.

Answering questions from the audience, Serage-Century stated that during last winter’s elongated cold snap, a number of sea turtles were rescued in island waters. They were placed in tanks until the water temperatures rose above 56 degrees.

“I think we only lost one of them,” she added. “We did pretty well.”

For additional information, call SCCF at 472-2329.