The Northern Map Turtle’s shell is criss-crossed with fine yellow patterns that resemble contour lines (hence the name). They are “avid baskers.” The female map turtle is five times larger than the male, and while she uses her powerful jaws to crush and eat mollusks, he mostly nibbles on aquatic insect larvae. And in Maryland, these sun-loving, human-shy turtles are endangered due to hunting, pollution, and development — but not if students at Towson University and the Eastern Shore town of Port Deposit (pop. 653) have anything to do with it.
The partnership between Towson and Port Deposit is an encouraging one, and a model for how universities can leverage their strengths to help communities solve problems. According to Richard Seigel, a Towson biology professor, “typically when you have an endangered species that has habitat requirements within any town boundaries there is potential for conflict and fears that there will be rules and regulations that will hamper the economy. But in the case of Port Deposit, the opposite happened.” The town adopted the turtle as its mascot, won grants to study the turtles’ habits and habitats, and planned a tourist center and pedestrian trail for turtle viewing. “It is one of those rare things in conservation biology where it seems to be working, without any legal actions or any of the things I’m more used to,” Seigel told National Geographic. “We like to brag about it because it’s worked.”
Seigel and his students have found that Port Deposit’s map turtles have the highest rate of nesting success in Maryland. Turtle nesting season starts this week and lasts through June 15; if you’d like to wish the turtles good luck, head on down to Port Deposit. For more information about the university-town-turtle partnership, read this.
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