On September 10, 2010, Conservation International reported on the catastrophic decline of the world's freshwater turtles. This decline is a sign of trouble in freshwater ecosystems – upon which people also depend. To help raise awareness of World Water Week, an international conference that works to address the state of water-related issues around the world, we put our freshwater turtle and tortoise scientist, Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk, at your disposal. We compiled your questions submitted via Facebook, our blog, and the website.
Click on each question to expand or close the answer. Expand all
I volunteered with CI in Cambodia working to protect Pelochelys cantorii. and I continue to raise funds for the nest protection program. What do you see as a longterm solution to the wildlife trade issue for Asian turtles?
-Trudy from Canada
The challenges seem overwhelming at times, particularly in Asia, but as we work to achieve better standards of living for rural people, the need to exploit wild animals and plants for subsistence and income should reduce. Combined with increased awareness of the ecosystem and cultural importance of plants, animals and landscape, and with effective enforcement where necessary, people will hopefully be able to make a conscious choice to save and protect their natural surroundings. This is what has happened in North America, Europe and many other places over the past century, and there is every reason that it can and will also happen throughout Asia.
What makes turtles come out of the river to walk out into the road? Do they really know where it is they want to go, and how do they know this? Do they have a radar or something in their head?
-Teckla from the United States
Freshwater turtles wander onto land for different reasons, including females looking for a suitable place to dig a nest for their eggs, males moving about to look for females, or animals just moving to a different pond because the pond they've recently been living in is drying out or no longer a good place to reside for other reasons.
We don't quite know the whole story of how freshwater turtles navigate. We do know that many turtle species can see polarized light, and use that to see the signature reflections in the sky of waterbodies on the horizon. Many turtles probably have a mental map and memories of good places, including good hibernation, feeding and nesting sites of previous years. Sea turtles have tiny magnetized particles in their brains that help them navigate with reference to the Earth's magnetic field, and such magnetic-field navigation could well occur in some freshwater turtles too.
Are the four known remaining Red River Giant Softshell Turtles [Rafetus swinhoei] still capable of breeding? Can you tell me what is being done to help preserve them or is extinction certain?
-Vanessa from the United Kingdom
Well, Peter Paul, do you know of any updates on the Rafetus project in Suzhou? I've been coming back to the TSA website but they have not been updating on this subject (or I may have missed it). Best wishes from this side of the Atlantic!
-Job via Facebook
LEARN MORE: Red River Giant Softshell Turtles (Rafetus swinhoei)
Of the four known animals, the male and female who were in captivity in China for decades at separate locations were brought together 3 years ago in the Suzhou zoo. They have bred and the female produced several clutches of eggs each year, but while there was some initial development, the embryos all died during incubation. It is not quite clear if this is a result of inadequate diet, reproductive senility, or some other problem; Dr. Gerald Kuchling, the world's foremost expert on turtle reproductive, has worked with these animals throughout this time, and we still have hope that they will produce healthy hatchlings in the not too distant future. More details on these efforts can be found at http://www.turtlesurvival.org/component/taxonomy/term/summary/95/37
The other two animals live in separate lakes in northern Viet Nam, and we do not know with certainty if they are a male and female. Males do not tolerate each other; bringing two males together would likely result in one of them being killed by the other. Even if they are a confirmed pair, bringing them together involves great challenges. The animal in Hoan Kiem lake in downtown Hanoi is a symbol of Viet Nam's independence; moving the animal out to the other lake is simply unacceptable. Moving the other animal into Hoan Kiem is a great logistic challenge, politically perhaps possible, but then runs into the problem that Hoan Kiem lake is severely polluted, does not have an adequate nesting site, and is not secure from harassment and injury of the turtles by humans. Moving animals from Viet Nam to China or vice versa – that becomes largely a political decision on top of the enormous challenges to transport such a large animal safely and without injury or severe stress.
There is hope that somewhere in northern Viet Nam or southern Yunnan, one or more animals still survive, undetected. Survey teams continue to look for more animals, and there remains hope that animals may survive, or be brought, together to perpetuate the species.
What are the biggest obstacles stopping Scientists and Conservation Groups from farming the most endangered turtles? Is it a matter of funding or do turtles not breed well in captivity? Thanks!
-Cara from the United States
I am a junior at an undergrad college but plan to study herpetology in grad school. I hope to one day help with the conservation of endangered turtles. I was wondering what graduate programs you experts went to and if I should look into them.
-John from the United States
We have 30-acres with in NH with a large brook through the middle and approx. 10-acres of it is wetland. Someone saw a large turtle crossing the road near our house. Is there anyway we can turn some of our property into a protected refuge?
-Laura from the United States
What do freshwater turtles eat?
-Basti from Great Britain
In 2009 thru-out N. range of bog turtle there was a die off caused by a disease agent forming veil of slime "over the head & neck & often forelegs. Infection began in nostrils & spread. What do you know about it?
-Bill from the United States
How can I get my students involved in helping turtles? Are there any websites, where they can learn anything?
-Jessica from the United States
Are most of Chinas turtles now farmed? Very few Showed up as hunted in a Vietnam survey.
-David from the United States
[Regarding] Asian Giant Softshell Turtles
-Anne from the United States
- How many hours a day do they spend buried in sand
- How many times a day do they surfarce for air?
- Why don't Aquariums breed them?
Is CI involved in conservation program with Philippines organization on conservation of endangered turtles and tortoises habitat along the coast of Batangas?
-Oscar from the Philippines
What is the main cause of turtle and tortoise demise in the world today besides human actions that threaten their habitat?
-Paul from the United States
Is there a way we can push these countries where the turtles are living to create an National Park, like the US has, that would protect these turtle species and prosecute anyone who hunts them down?
-Kathy from the United States
Would CI be willing and able to mount a project to help preserve turtles in the Xingu, Mato Grosso, working with indigenous leaders?
-Sandra from Brazil
A small, what I think is a slider water turtle has adopted our back porch. It has been with us for 2 weeks now. It is about 1.5" across. What kind of food should we make available for it.
-Craig from the United States
I have a turtle that I rescued. He was missing part of his leg and a piece of his shell. He is now completely recovered and twice the size. Can he be released back in to the wild after having him for 2 years?
-Genevieve from the United States
What should Californians do with red eared sliders in W. pond turtle habitat?
-Richard from the United States
How many turtle species have been identified? How many of those are known to bite humans???
-Marian from the United States
How can I help to save these turtles or turtle by staying in India?
-Amar from India
What is the social organization of turtles? Do they live in clans, families?
-Christine from the United States
Eastern Box Turtle question. I live in So. Maryland. Last June I think a female BT came to lay eggs in my backyard (part of the video is posted to my FB profile, I can "share" it via Email if you give me one). I remember learning that... the newly laid eggs can attract raccoons (or other mammals) so I tried to protect the area by placing a large "cage" over it. Sure enough, the very next day, one of the two pots I used to keep the cage in place was knocked over. Luckily the remaining pot was too heavy for whatever mammal(s) were trying to remove it, so the cage stayed in place, and the eggs untouched. I researched the potential incubation period and set a reminder in my calendar for days 50-90. But once Sept. came around nothing happened. I then looked closer and saw what appeared like a mole tunnel in the direction of the eggs. Thus, my question is, are moles a know predator on E. BT eggs? And if so, how can I protect future BT eggs from mole predation?? I believe the BT populations need a helping hand.
-Carla via Facebook
I live in SE Kentucky, and almost every year my husband turns up some baby box turtles, sometimes still in their eggs, when he's hand digging the potatoes (see my profile pic). But this is the only time we ever see such small box turtles, and no one around here has ever seen them so small. Question: Do they live underground for a long period of time before emerging as the adult box turtles we all know and love?
-Cindy via Facebook
I live in Federal Way, WA. We used to have turtles in our wetland. I could rarely visit the West Hylebos Wetland without seeing at least five large turtles stacked, one upon the other, on a stump in Brooklake. I was unable to identify these turtles, as they seemed to have characteristics of both the painted turtle and the western pond turtle (which was considered endangered). At least four years ago, the turtles disappeared. I visit the park three or four times a week, always looking for the turtles, but the turtles are gone. It makes me so sad. Where did they go? How do we get them back?
-Teri via Facebook
How are Canadian FW Turtle populations doing? If in decline, what are the causes?
-Darcey via Facebook
BONUS: A sea turtle question answered by Brian Hutchinson and Bryan Wallace of CI's Sea Turtle Flagship Program
I've found your research on turtles to be very interesting. But, what about the seven or more sea turtle species? How are they doing nowadays?
-Daniel from the United States
Hi Daniel, thanks for your question.
Six of the seven sea turtle species are considered to be threatened with extinction on the global scale by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN. These are, the green turtle, Chelonia mydas
(Endangered); hawksbill, Eretmochelys imbricata
(Critically Endangered); Kemp's ridley, Lepidochelys kempii
(Critically Endangered); leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea
(Critically Endangered); loggerhead, Caretta caretta
(Endangered); and olive ridley, Lepidochelys olivacea
(Vulnerable). The seventh species, the flatback, Natator depressus
, is found only in and around Australia and is currently listed as Data Deficient, though a new assessment is underway. On the local and regional scales, populations of sea turtles have varying statuses that can differ from the species' global status; in some locations populations are stable or increasing, while in others they are declining or even extinct.
All sea turtle species face human-caused threats, which vary in intensity by region and by species. The IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group has classified the major "hazards" that affect sea turtles
into five categories: coastal development, fisheries bycatch, direct take (consumption), climate change, and pollution and pathogens. Of these, fisheries bycatch and direct take are the most significant (check out our recent story on fisheries bycatch research by CI scientist Dr. Bryan Wallace
). Fortunately, intensive conservation efforts are helping to restore sea turtle populations in several areas around the world (including some populations in Brazil, Hawaii, Florida, Costa Rica, and elsewhere) proving that it is not too late to make a difference for sea turtles. In addition to dedicated conservation on the ground, every person on Earth can make a difference for sea turtles by being conscientious of our actions, in particular what and how we consume. Check out our list of easy things you can do for sea turtles
to find out what you can do to help.