Rescue native turtles one gallon at a time | Malibu life

On the morning of September 4, more than two dozen Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCD) volunteers and 20 hoses were on hand. They were there to manually fill small spring basins with water that native western pond turtles need to survive and reproduce.

With so little rain that year, the ponds in the creeks of the Santa Monica Mountains dried up and the RCD decided it was time to help the turtles. Volunteers carried 20 hoses 30 meters long up a steep 60-meter gorge to provide water, specifically to fill a pool that supports a number of native western pond turtles.

A young western pond turtle in the Santa Monica Mountains

“I am amazed that so many people volunteered to help with this project,” said Rosi Dagit, RCD Senior Conservation Biologist, in a telephone interview. “What was really wonderful is that they are doing it at a time when so many bad things are happening. I think people want to do something tangible and positive. “

It was a real community effort: Manzanita School / Cali Camp donated water and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy provided additional tubing. The technical fire brigade volunteers made sure there was enough water pressure to climb the steep hill and also repaired hoses that the pressure blew out. A United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologist dechlorinated and aerated the water before adding it to the tanks.

It took all day to deliver over 2,000 liters of water to save the native turtles, but it paid off – five hatchlings and several hatchlings and small adults immediately jumped into the pool.

After seeing firsthand the success of these efforts, the RCD is now seeking $ 11,000 to purchase additional materials (such as pipes, valves, gauges, and water) to set up a permanent water supply system for future droughts. They hope to build the system in February 2022.

The western pond turtle is the only native species of turtle found in the Santa Monica Mountains. They can sometimes be spotted sunbathing on a rock or log, but dive into the water when disturbed. The turtles can be found in ponds, streams, swamps and irrigation ditches with vegetation and prefer pools with logs, rocks or exposed banks for sunbathing.

Western pond turtles are only ten to nine centimeters long and vary in color from brown to olive to blackish; and live 30-40 years. Adult turtles eat aquatic plants, invertebrates, frog and salamander eggs, crabs and tadpoles.

They like to hike and “aestivize” (overwinter) under Chaparral in summer. In the Santa Monica Mountains, mating occurs in April and May.

Western pond turtle populations have suffered a significant decline locally due to “poaching for private collections, increasing predation by dogs and cats, habitat loss through development” – particularly through overzealous fuel modification – “and street death,” said Dagit. “We lost over 50 people (out of a designated population of 350 people) from 2012 to 2015.”

Forest fires have also taken their toll. The Woolsey Fire caused the turtle ponds in the Trancas and Zuma Gorges to fill with sedimentation, and the eight turtles that used to live in these ponds have now disappeared.

The turtles are currently listed as a California Species of High Concern by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, but the USFWS is currently considering a petition to list the southern populations as endangered.

In 1986 the Southwest Herpetological Society documented turtles in 30 locations in the Santa Monica Mountains. The most recent comprehensive study by the RCD in 2009 found that only eight of these locations have western pond turtles and only three have more than five individuals.

Last month was not the first time heroic measures had been taken to help the turtles; In 2014, volunteers carried water by hand to fill natural turtle ponds that were drying up. By 2015, the ponds were so dry that refilling was impractical. Volunteers collected 48 of the turtles and temporarily placed them in a protected “sanctuary” pool until they could be returned to the wild.

When examining the turtles that were collected, many of the adult animals had tanks damaged by collisions with coyotes, raccoons, ravens and dogs, to name but a few of their predators. Several were handicapped with missing limbs gnawed off by predators and had to be moved to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

“Tackling the effects of climate change one turtle pond at a time is daunting,” Dagit wrote in a newsletter for the RCD. “Right now we’ve managed to buy some time in our efforts to support the turtles … but if the ongoing drought reduces the number of females laying eggs and the number of hatchlings surviving their first year , we have only a few good things ahead of us other solutions than to keep them in captivity. ”

Tax-deductible donations to a water supply system can be made to the donation link or by mail to RCD of the Santa Monica Mountains, 540 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290.

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