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RTPI and SUNY JCC studying Spiny Softshell Turtles

Posted on Oct 10, 2014

This fall we have two interns from SUNY Jamestown Community College working with us on the study and research of the Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera) population present in the Chadakoin River, located mere moments from our campus in Jamestown, New York. The state-listed turtle is listed as “special concern” and we are thankful to have this nearby area where we have found them successfully nesting. The Chadakoin River has a history of being surrounded by development and industry, making contamination of various sorts and water quality major concerns.

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Barely visible Spiny Softshell Turtle basking on the distant shore

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The waters can be swift, even when low

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Examining the maps

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Industry on one side, environment on the other

However, the fact that these turtles are even present with at least a couple dozen individuals breeding means that water conditions are likely at least suitable and decent enough for their health. We have been opportunistically and regularly surveying the known “hotspots” to record population, weather and behavioral data with other SUNY JCC and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry interns this past spring and summer. We will be conducting tests to determine the current water quality, to find where individuals move in and along the waterway, to discover if they are “trapped” between two dams on the River, to record breeding numbers in terms of nests and young that successfully hatch and more.

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Even these areas without concrete walls or other structures are often too rocky for the turtles

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Mallard ducks are frequently seen in the Chadakoin downtown

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Unfortunately waste water and runoff go directly into the Chadakoin in a number of places

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A very natural look!

Yesterday Elyse Henshaw, RTPI Conservation Technician, and Alivia Sheffield, one of our two SUNY JCC “Spiny” interns, spent a few hours ground truthing the entire Chadakoin River between two dams installed on either end of the downtown Jamestown area. Recording habitat, infrastructure, turtles and more they were able acquire a lot of data to help further the vital research.

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Elyse is excited!

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Looking here, there and everywhere we could

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Satellite photos help but ground truthing provides clarity

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It’s beginning to look like autumn

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How many turtles are in these waters?

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As one moves away from downtown the Chadakoin widens, as does the surrounding habitat

In time we will work to ensure our conclusions can and will be used to promote higher breeding productivity rates, expand habitat, lessen a multitude of disturbances or potential negative impacts and further educate local residents about their important reptile neighbors – who are already very popular with the community! This conservation in action is helping protect an at-risk species and a significant waterway while RTPI staff also fulfills education goals by training the next generation of conservation biologists.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator