- Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
- MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) officials, cooperating partners, and members of the public participated in a release of 53 Northern Red-bellied Cooters, a turtle listed on both federal and state endangered species lists, at the Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area in Hanson today. Last fall, cooter hatchlings were removed from the wild and paired with partnering educational and scientific facilities from across the state as part of a program called headstarting. Raising the turtles in captivity for several months greatly accelerates growth and reduces the likelihood of death from predators during a turtle’s first year of life.
“As of 2017, over 4,000 headstarted hatchlings have been released into ponds and waterways in southeastern Massachusetts since the first release in 1985,” said Dr. Jon Regosin, MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage Chief of Conservation Science. “When the Headstart Program began, the estimated population was only 300 cooters in Massachusetts.” Regosin noted that in the past three years, MassWildlife has documented that released headstarts have a very high annual survival rate (more than 95%). Additionally, in several ponds where they have been released in earlier decades, headstarted turtles are now successfully laying eggs.
As part of the program, cooperating partners from schools, nature centers, and museums raise the turtles in warm aquarium environments. The turtles are presented with unlimited food, allowing them to grow faster and making them less vulnerable to predations when they are finally released.
Developing partnerships in the conservation community helps to ensure the future of fish and wildlife and their habitats for people to enjoy for generations to come. “The Cooter Headstart Program is just one good example of how MassWildlife works successfully with conservation partners,” said Mark Tisa, MassWildlife Acting Director.
Before releasing the Northern Red-bellied Cooters, MassWildlife biologists spoke about how turtles are individually identified with implanted microchips for research purposes. They also offered useful tips on how people can help turtles in their neighborhoods or communities.
Representatives from the following organizations, schools, and colleges partnered with MassWildlife on the Cooter Headstart Program this year: Bristol County Agricultural High School, Dighton; Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Brewster; Clinton High School; Dighton Middle School; Eagle Hill School, Hardwick; Essex Technical High School, Danvers; Gibbons Middle School, Westborough; Hingham Middle School; Holbrook High School; Mass Audubon Long Pasture, Barnstable; Minuteman Regional High School, Lexington; Museum of Science, Boston; National Marine Life Center, Bourne; New England Aquarium, Boston; Narragansett Regional High School, Templeton; Norwood High School; Plymouth Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs; Quincy High School; South Shore Science Center, Norwell; Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, Plymouth, Southeastern Regional High School, Easton; Upper Cape Technical High School, Bourne; Watertown High School; Weymouth School; Worcester State University.
The Cooter Headstart Program is part of MassWildlife’s overall turtle conservation effort. MassWildlife is working to raise awareness about turtles, explain the threats to native turtle populations, describe turtle conservation projects, and provide information on ways property owners, neighborhood residents, educators, and conservationists can help turtles in their communities.