Yesterday was a beautiful day to go turtle tracking at Nahant Marsh. Mik, the Nahant Marsh chelonologist (one who studies turtles), was prepared for our arrival and had already set turtle traps for us. These traps consisted of a bare wire cage that had mesh covering it and anchovies were used as bait.
When we got there, we changed our approach from using the giant waders and the yagi antenna (helps track the turtles) to canoeing and pulling up turtle traps. In one boat there was Mallory, Teresa, Professor Trujillo, and me. In the other canoe, there was Rob in the back, Matt in the front, and poor Mitch in the middle. Kenner was in a boat with Kristen and Megan Quinn.
We all got in our canoes and followed Mik, who was pulling up the turtle traps. As everyone proceeded to follow Mik, the men started going off in the complete opposite direction, which was a foreshadowing of their day-long inability to paddle the canoe in one direction. For almost the entire time we were canoeing, they paddled themselves in circles and laughed at each other.
The women on the other hand had great team work (of course). With Teresa steering at the back and me paddling in the front, we managed to not get stuck or capsize the canoe. We did have a few close encounters when Teresa would stand up to look for turtles and the canoe would sway back and forth.
As we paddled around, we would see lots of dirt being turned up in the water. This was due to the plentiful amount of carp swimming around us. The carp disrupt Nahant Marsh’s ecosystem, and Mik said they will pay the high price of 5 cents for every carp you catch. Mik pulled up the first turtle trap and pulled out a medium sized snapping turtle and put him in a bucket. We went to three other turtle traps, and they were sadly empty. When we were paddling to the final trap that was left in the Marsh, the men (who had been aimlessly wandering) told us they had already tried to pull the trap up but couldn’t. Mik, with the help of Rob, carefully pulled up the trap and in it were two giant and one medium sized snapping turtles. Mik said the trap with all three turtles in it, probably weighed 90 pounds!
We all excitedly paddled back to shore to examine the giant Marsh monsters. Mik gingerly pulled the largest snapping turtle out and put in it big plastic tub to prevent it from ‘running’ away. Surprisingly, the large snapping turtle could scale the walls of the plastic container and lift himself out. Mik had to repeatedly push him back into the container with a paddle so he didn’t get away. Mik and his research assistant then had the arduous job of measuring and marking this turtle–Rob decided he wanted to help, too. Mik would hold the turtle down, and his assistant carefully measured the shell and the under belly of the turtle. The measurement of this turtle was 36 centimeters and weighed about 40 pounds! Mik told us that this was the biggest turtle they had ever seen at the Marsh. After measuring the turtle, Mik then drilled holes in the outer edge of the shell to mark the turtle. Don’t worry, Mik is very good at not drilling a hole into the soft tissue of the turtle, and he assured us that drilling his shell did not cause him pain. After this grueling process and many pictures later, Mik picked up the little dinosaur and put him in the Marsh. The snapping turtle was happy to be released, and it took no time before he was gone in the murky Marsh water.
Mik proceeded to measure and mark the other three turtles and put them back into the water. The final and smallest of the four snapping turtles decided to sun himself on the beach instead of quickly swimming away from the crowd of people that was staring at him. Since he wasn’t running, I decided to examine him with a stick of course. It wasn’t long until he was annoyed with me and bit down on my stick, snapping it in half. Even though he was small (maybe a foot wide), he was strong and very fast. It seems that as the turtles get larger, they get much stronger but also slower. The other scary things about these snapping turtles are how quickly they can project their head and the strength of their jaw. It would not have been surprising if one of us would have come back without a finger or two.
Nahant Marsh is always a great time for all of us. We get to be outside and explore, wade through dirty marsh water, and most importantly, chase turtles. We are ever thankful to Mik, who is a wonderful turtle wrangler and very informative. As well, to Professor Trujillo, who sets up all of these wonderful events for us. Learn more about the turtle tracking at Nahant Marsh at http://www.riveraction.org/node/53