Turtles in the Baltimore Harbor have taken advantage of the warm weather this week, basking in the sun on a new floating habitat installed in a canal along Lancaster Street.
The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, the National Aquarium, Clearwater Mills, and Living Classrooms Foundation partnered to install the new “turtle island” on Wednesday.
In past years, turtles have basked on any available floating object in the Inner Harbor, including logs and trash. The new turtle island recreates the basking habitat that turtles would ordinarily have in the wild.
The 100-square-foot floating island has a basking area, shallow water habitat for sleeping turtles, and marsh habitat for young turtles.
“Prior to European arrival, this canal would have been tidal marsh habitat supporting a variety of species,” said Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium, in a statement.
“Many of the species are still here and, though we’re not going to transform this highly urbanized environment back to a pristine state, we can install constructed habitats to help fill that void,” he said.
The day after the habitat was installed, the number of turtles using it doubled, the Waterfront Partnership said.
Turtles are ectotherms, meaning they depend on external sources for body heat. To maintain their body temperatures, turtles move to warm temperatures when they are cold, and to cooler habitats when overheated.
The organization hopes that the island will provide an opportunity for the public to observe and learn about turtles.
“Beyond the benefit of increasing urban habitat for aquatic turtles, this platform creates opportunities for wildlife watching and environmental outreach,” said Dr. Micah Miles, a staff scientist at the Waterfront Partnership, in a statement.
“Visitors and city residents can sit on nearby benches, observe these charismatic reptiles, and ideally develop an interest in the wellbeing of our Harbor and these urban-adapted species,” he said.