Got turtles?

If you have turtles in your pond, wetland or other slow-moving water on your property, lucky you!

Both species of Oregon’s native turtles are uncommon, and it’s hard for them to find suitable habitat. You’ll want to make sure the conditions you provide for them stay suitable or even improve.

The Oregon Native Turtle Working Group has resources to help you!

What kind of turtles do you have?

In Oregon, we have two species of native turtles, the western painted turtle and the western pond turtle, and several species of non-native invasive turtles. Visit the Oregon Native Turtle Working Group website for turtle identification information.

Don’t have turtles, but want them?

It’s illegal to capture/relocate or buy turtles and turn them loose in your pond. Focus instead on providing suitable habitat – the “build it and they will come” approach. Turtles are very capable of and are known to make long-distance treks to newly created and enhanced habitats. In any case, improving habitat in and around your pond will make it more attractive to songbirds, dragonflies, frogs and other awesome creatures. You can’t lose!

See turtles? Report them.

Biologists are tracking locations of turtles (both native and non-native) in Oregon. Let us know if you spot turtles, whether they are on your property or somewhere else. You can report your turtle sighting at www.oregonturtles.com/report.html or www.inaturalist.org/projects/western-pond-turtles-in-oregon. The first step in making sure turtle populations remain stable is knowing where they are.

Get more information.

An abundance of information on how to help Oregon’s native turtles can be found in a free, downloadable publication by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: Guidance for Conserving Oregon’s Native Turtles including Best Management Practices.

Ask for help.

If you have turtles on your property and want help improving conditions for them, email oregonturtles@gmail.com and someone will get in touch with you.

Western Painted Turtle on a log in the water

Western Painted Turtle, Photo by Port of Portland

Learn more about creating turtle habitat.  

Turtles have fairly simple needs, which you can help provide:

  • Basking areas

After spending the winter hibernating, turtles need to haul out of the water in spring and early summer to warm up in the sunshine. They often select downed trees or large tree branches that have fallen into the water. If there is no natural downed wood in your pond or wetland, consider adding some. Turtles like to bask on wood as they can quickly drop into the water to avoid predators.

  • Nesting areas

When it’s time to lay eggs, female turtles look for sparsely-vegetated areas that get plenty of afternoon sun, since the sun’s rays incubate the eggs. Suitable turtle nesting habitat has compact soils, usually with a high clay content to help the nest keep its shape and make it harder for predators to dig up the eggs. You can enhance nesting areas by providing patches of sparsely vegetated or bare ground in sunny areas close to your pond.

  • Food and hiding cover

Young turtles conceal themselves from predators in rushes, sedges, duck weed and other vegetation at the shallow edges of the pond. Turtles eat worms, aquatic bugs, fish and other high protein items that help them grow. All turtles snack on aquatic vegetation, so it’s important to have a healthy plant community in your pond. Native plants attract a variety of invertebrates which in turn become food for turtles. Some shrubby/forested habitat nearby is ideal as some turtles over-winter on land.

  • Minimal disturbance

Turtles, turtle nests and hatchlings, and even hibernating turtles, are sensitive to disturbances like pet dogs swimming in ponds occupied by turtles, kayakers getting too close to basking turtles, or mowing equipment coming too close to nesting turtles. Turtles will be more likely to use your pond if basking and nesting areas are a little more private and away from areas of regular disturbance.

This information was provided by the Oregon Native Turtle Working Group and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Download a fact sheet. 


A campaign to eliminate plastic straws is sucking in thousands of converts

It started so innocently. A kid ordered a soda in a restaurant.

“It came with a plastic straw in it,” Milo Cress recalled. He glared at the straw for a while. “It seemed like such a waste.”

Not only did Cress yank the plastic from his drink, but he also launched a campaign, “Be Straw Free,” targeting all straws as needless pollution. He knocked on the doors of restaurants in Burlington, Vt., where he lived at the time, and asked managers not to offer straws unless patrons asked. He was 9 years old.

Today Cress, 15, is one of the faces of a growing movement to eliminate plastic straws. They have been found wedged in the nose of a sea turtle, littering the stomachs of countless dead marine animals and scattered across beaches with tons of other plastics.

Why single out pollution as small and slim as a drinking straw?

A group of marine biologists in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, helped remove a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose. (COASTS/YouTube)
Straws are among the most common plastic items volunteers clean from beaches, along with bottles, bags and cups, conservationists say. Americans use half a billion straws every day, at least according to an estimate by Be Straw Free, based on information from straw manufacturers. That many straws could wrap around the Earth 2½ times.

The slightest wind lifts plastic straws from dinner tables, picnic blankets and trash dumps, depositing them far and wide, including in rivers and oceans, where animals often mistake them for food.

And they are ubiquitous. Nearly every chain restaurant and coffee shop offers straws. They’re in just about every movie theater and sit-down restaurant. Theme parks and corner stores and ice cream shops and school cafeterias freely hand them out.

But they are starting to disappear because of the awareness campaign Cress and dozens of conservation groups are waging. Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom bans them, as do the food concession areas of Smithsonian Institution museums.

Keith Christman, a managing director for plastics markets at the American Chemistry Council, which promotes plastics manufacturers and fights attempts to ban plastic, said in a National Geographic article two months ago that the group would do the same for attempts to eliminate plastic straws.

But a spokeswoman for the council said “we won’t be able to offer comment” or say whether the group backs Christman’s claim.

The movement was growing at a slow, steady pace when Cress joined it six years ago, but it exploded after a YouTube video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral in 2015. The cringe-inducing effort to pull the plastic out of a bloody nostril outraged viewers — 11.8 million so far.

Cress has launched a website on the issue, partnered with several organizations that support the cause and testified against straws in the Vermont legislature. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) cited Cress’s activism in a 2013 proclamation that made July 11 a straw-free day in the state.

Manhattan Beach outside Los Angeles banned all disposable plastics, including straws. Berkeley, Calif., is considering a ban. Restaurants in San Diego; Huntington Beach, Calif.; Asbury Park, N.J.; New York; Miami; Bradenton, Fla.; London; and British Columbia have pledged to ban straws or withhold them until patrons ask for them.

The Plastic Pollution Coalition estimates that 1,800 “restaurants, organizations, institutions and schools worldwide have gotten rid of plastic straws or implemented a serve-straws-upon-request policy,” said Jackie Nunez, founder of a group called the Last Plastic Straw.

More than 20 such restaurants near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., signed up last year to be certified by a coalition of groups as establishments that won’t serve straws unless they’re requested.

Ginger Taylor, a volunteer who cleans trash from the five-mile beach, said the campaign is working, at least anecdotally.

“I’ve been picking up straws on Monday morning on that same stretch of beach for five years,” she said. Four years ago, she picked up 248 straws in about two weeks. The next two years, she collected about 500. But the number fell to 158 after the awareness campaign started last year.

Diana Lofflin, founder of a group called Straw Free, said the turtle video inspired her year-old organization. Her volunteers persuaded California’s Joshua Tree Music Festival to go straw-free in May. They also knock on the doors of Orange County, Calif., homeowners who grow bamboo to ask whether they can harvest a little and make reusable straws from the plant. Like several other groups, Straw Free sells reusable bamboo straws online, theirs in packs of 10 for $1.50.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a concessions company that partners with the National Park Service to provide food and lodging at Rocky Mountain National Park, the Grand Canyon and other national parks, offers straws at dispensers but posts fliers asking patrons not to use them.

“Humans didn’t really evolve around straws. It’s not like we have to consume fluids with this appendage. What really, what is this?” said Catherine Greener, vice president of sustainability for the company.

The prevailing notion says flexible straws were invented in the late 19th century by Marvin Stone, a D.C. man who didn’t like how the traditional ryegrass straw people used for drinking would disintegrate and leave gritty residue in his mint juleps. Stone wrapped strips of paper around a pencil, glued the strips together and test-marketed the contraption, and in 1888, the disposable straw was born, according to the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

The new paper straw was limited mostly to use in hospitals, which used the innovation to avoid spreading disease. Usage widened during the polio epidemic that began in 1900 as people avoided putting their mouths on others’ drinking glasses. Finally in the 1960s, restaurants offered a new invention: a disposable plastic straw.

It’s a convenience people seem to use arbitrarily. Millions drink soda with a straw, but hardly any suck beer through one. Hot-coffee drinkers gulp directly from cups but stick straws in iced coffee. Bar hoppers drink highballs from a glass, but mixed cocktails come with a straw.

“There are plenty of times when straws just aren’t necessary,” said Aaron Pastor, a restaurant consultant and one of dozens of vendors who sell stainless steel, bamboo and other reusable straws online.

“I’ve sold thousands of [reusable] straws,” Pastor said, but it’s not a booming business. “This isn’t paying my mortgage.”

Pastor said chastising plastic straw users isn’t his style. “If your goal isn’t to preach and come across as ‘I’m better than you,’ that’s best. I just say they’re wasteful, they end up in oceans and, hey, do you really need one.”

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Melissa and Brian Charon said no. The parents, visiting from Boston with small children who grabbed at food spread on a table, shrugged when told the museum doesn’t offer straws.

“It’s fine with me. I don’t really miss it,” Melissa said. Then Brian added: “I look in the drawer in our kitchen every day and say, ‘Why do we have so many straws?’ ”

At Xanterra’s national parks concessions, “We want people to think about this throwaway society, especially in these beautiful places,” Greener said. “They can take to the air. It’s easy for them to get blown around.”

The anti-straw message is also getting blown around. Greener was looking for composting tips a few years ago when she came across a profile of Cress, who had partnered with a recycling center in Colorado called Eco-Cycle.

Greener wanted to talk to the kid, who by then was powering the anti-straw movement in Colorado, where his family had moved. Based on their conversation, Greener decided to promote straw awareness at Xanterra’s concessions.

“He’s obviously a gifted teen. He’s probably running for Congress. He was very inspirational and innovative,” Greener said. “All I wanted to do at his age was get my driver’s license. I look at kids like that, and it makes me very hopeful.”

Cress isn’t running for office — yet. He said he’s enjoying a six-year passion that has taken him to Australia, Portugal, Germany, France, Boston, Washington and many high schools all over to deliver speeches.

“My favorite part about it has been getting to talk to other kids and listening to their ideas,” Cress said. “It’s really cool, and I think it’s really empowering. I certainly feel like I’m listened to and valued in a larger community, and I really appreciate that.”

By Darryl Fears, June 24, The Washington Post


Recording fish song to make fisheries more sustainable

What do fish sound like?

When Gulf Corvina breed, their mating calls could be likened to an immense, underwater roar. Now, a group of researchers have found a way to use the deafening din to save these fish from exploitation. Using underwater microphones, they’ve developed a method for converting sound recordings of the fish’s calls into precise population estimates. Those could inform more accurate catch limits, they say, that would ultimately make corvina fisheries—and others—more sustainable.

Fish stocks worldwide are being depleted by overfishing, which often boils down to inaccurate population surveys that can lead to overly-liberal catch quotas. For the Gulf Corvina especially, overfishing over the last 20 years has taken its toll; the fish now has a vulnerable status.

Part of the problem for this species, the researchers explain in Scientific Reports, is that every year the entire population of two million corvina migrate to one spot in the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico, to spawn. There, males attract mates by producing their spectacular cacophony—so loud that fishers can easily locate them from the surface, and haul up more than a million over the course of three weeks. The researchers realized that if they could instead use the noise to monitor the population, there might be a solution for these fish.

Over the course of eight surveys in 2014, they used underwater hydrophones to record the corvinas’ roar at the Colorado River Delta where they spawn. The louder the din, the more fish there were assumed to be. But because of the way sound travels underwater it can be misleading, meaning the recordings alone couldn’t provide a dependable estimate. So the researchers paired them with sonar. This method pings sound waves into the water that bounce off objects and create a detailed picture of how many objects—i.e. fish—there are beneath the surface.

Sonar would be too costly to use for every population estimate. But in this case, the researchers only used it to sample the population size at different points in the survey, adding a layer of detail to the sound recording. If it worked, this would prove whether there was a link between more noise and more fish. And it did: “When all the fish are packed into the spawning grounds and males are chorusing during the peak spawning activity, we find a tight correlation between sound and abundance,” says co-author Brad Erisman from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. “Now you can imagine a situation, if it’s predictable, [where] you can just have the underwater microphones out there,” he says. “Because you know this sort of sound intensity and this loudness corresponds to about this many fish. Then you have a very powerful monitoring capability.”

The researchers were thus able to determine that at peak spawning, there were between 1.53 and 1.55 million corvina in the delta. Compared to more traditional surveying tools, the advantage of this method, they showed, is its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Hydrophones can easily and regularly be deployed to monitor the population, which could inform more accurate catch quotas and move the fishery towards sustainability.

As a tool, it also holds promise for other species. Commercial fish like pollock, cod, haddock, and grouper all produce calls during spawning. Now the researchers say they’re looking into how their method could be used to set sustainable catch limits for those species, too.

Source: Rowell TJ et al. “Estimating fish abundance at spawning aggregations from courtship sound levels.” Scientific Reports. 2017.

Monkey-Human Economy

The temple where monkeys trade with humans

Thirty or so years ago, a long-tailed macaque at the Uluwatu Temple in Bali, Indonesia, took something from a visitor. A pair of sunglasses, maybe, or a hat. Which wouldn’t have been so unusual—monkeys are quite the little scamps—but something unexpected happened next: the visitor, or perhaps a helpful member of the temple’s staff, offered food in return for the stolen goods. The monkey made the swap. And so began what’s become a thriving, one-of-a-kind monkey-human economy.

There are several ways to think about this interspecies marketplace, which ethologists led by Fany Brotcorne and Jean-Baptiste Leca of the University of Lethbridge describe in the journal Primates. Brotcorne and Leca’s group, which spent four months documenting interactions at Uluwatu, is especially interested in how this behavior arose and spread. They found that the exchanges—which among other objects included glasses, hats, shoes, hair clips, jewelry, cameras and phones—varied in frequency between monkey groups living near the temple. That and the fact that monkey-human trading is found nowhere else suggest it’s truly a cultural tradition, with successive generations of temple macaques learning by watching their enterprising peers.

That observation “might provide some insight into the evolution of a traditional token economy in hominins,” write the researchers. It also speaks to the considerable intelligence and behavioral adaptability of macaques. In captivity, experimental token-exchange paradigms are used to investigate a host of cognitive properties: social learning, memory, gratification delay, numerical judgement, economic behavior. There’s a lot of smarts underlying the Uluwatu monkeys’ antics. Insights into human evolution aside, they underscore the infrequently-appreciated richness of monkey minds. “Unfortunately there is still a bias in cognitive science,” says Leca, “with a stronger emphasis put on great apes than on monkeys when it comes to seemingly complex processes such as intelligence and culture.”

There’s also a broader conceptual aspect to the findings. In recent years, many anthropologists have reframed their work as anthrozoology—studying not just human societies, but our entanglement with animals in so-called multispecies communities. The terms might sound academic, but they’re made explicit at the Uluwatu Temple. Not only did the macaques have ready access to people and their food; temple staff and visitors, who follow Balinese Hindu philosophies that regard temple monkeys as sacred and deserving of tolerance, accepted them. The resulting economy “was based on coexistence between these two species,” Leca says.

That’s likely to change in the future. The temple’s monkeys sometimes keep what they take, says Leca, and complaints by upset tourists have led temple staff and local communities to discourage people from participating. Eventually the tradition will disappear. But our memories will remain as testimony to the complex relationships that human and monkey societies can build together.

Source: Brotcorne et al. “Intergroup variation in robbing and bartering by long-tailed macaques at Uluwatu Temple (Bali, Indonesia).” Primates. 2017.
Image: Brotcorne et al. / Primates