Urban Surveys: Get involved with Nature

From left to right we have Logan Kline, Sarah Carpe, Sheldon Mason and Adler (AJ) Pruitt

From left to right we have Logan Kline, Sarah Carpe, Sheldon Mason and Adler (AJ) Pruitt

Today’s post comes from Sheldon Mason, one of our Masonville Cove Baltimore Urban Conservation & Education Interns, in conjunction with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD.

I have always loved turtles, they are by far my favorite reptile. Recently, I have had the opportunity to help monitor the population of one of our native turtle species: the eastern box turtle. The eastern box turtle is listed as a vulnerable species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and as a result population surveys are being conducted at Patuxent Research Refuge.

One of the many box turtles kept in the veterinary house at Patuxent

One of the many box turtles kept in the veterinary house at Patuxent

Where should we look for box turtles? Sandy Spencer, a wildlife biologist on the refuge, says that they can literally be anywhere. Out in the forest at Patuxent Research Refuge, we were searching for box turtles as part of a survey, led by wildlife biologists. As we explored the forest in search of box turtles, we looked next to rocks and logs, places we thought were suitable habitat. When we finally found a box turtle, which was located in a forest full of ferns, we had to write a description of the turtle, details of its surrounding environment, as well as other data.

In order to mark the turtle, we had to drill holes on the edge of the shell and we notched the side. There was a key we used to notch them in a certain way so the turtles can be assigned a number. I asked Sandy why she was doing this survey and she explained that this survey was conducted years ago and they wanted to compare the present and past populations. This was the first time I have ever met a biologist and I was very surprised that they were in a field more than a lab or an office.

A baby box turtle that has not been notched yet

A baby box turtle that has not been notched yet

The work out in the field reminded me of the Bioblitz that we had at Masonville Cove. A BioBlitz is an annual event at Masonville where participants record all the wildlife they find that day and upload it to iNaturalist. Working at the reptile station at the Bioblitz, I realized that the survey that we were conducting on iNaturalist was similar to the one at Patuxent. iNaturalist is a citizen science app, a program used to share wildlife observations with the scientific community. The Bioblitz was promoting citizen science and I was starting to see how something as user friendly as iNaturalist can help scientists learn more about wildlife populations. The whole idea behind citizen science is to encourage all people to be a part of real scientific studies in their own environment and iNaturalist is a great application to get people involved.

I am very fortunate to have had experiences within a career path that interests me. While we have had other experiences during this internship program, this one may have personally made the greatest impact in my career choices as well as how I interact with wildlife.

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