Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hope Floats

It ain’t easy being a Northern Red-Bellied Cooter.

Besides having a really goofy name, the Cooter has a seriously tough life. For one thing, it can be found in only one place on earth – in just one county, in just one state. Ours.

And, apparently, some of them have been calling the proposed site of a Middleboro casino their home.

Housing developments, agricultural expansion, pollution, roads, and diversion of waterways have pushed the Cooter to the brink of oblivion. Close to 100% of them don’t make it past their first year thanks to fish and frogs and snapping turtles. And their sex life doesn’t help, either, since they don’t reach breeding age for 15 to 20 years, which puts them well behind the MTV generation.

So, if you’re a Northern Red Bellied Cooter, and you make it through your first year of life, bump into your soulmate a decade and a half down the line, and then you're lucky enough to find exactly the right type of soil that also just happens to be located within 100 yards of a pond, you’re pretty much the future of the species.

Which is why the Northern Red Bellied Cooter proved worthy, in 1980 of protection by the Endangered Species Act. Endangered. That’s the big one. It's the Superbowl ring for stuggling animals everywhere.

Thankfully, the Cooters have been getting some assistance during their slow determined trek to survive. Biologists, cranberry growers and even private landowners have been helping to identify and protect the Cooter. Headstarting programs, which involve removing turtle eggs from their nests, raising the hatchlings in captivity, and releasing the babies back into the wild when they are too big for many predators to eat, are a painstaking, but crucial effort to keep the turtle from what looks like a sure date with extinction.

But will it be enough to keep the Cooters safe from those stalwart stewards of the earth we’ve come to know so well – billionaire casino developers? Will their tough little shells protect them from the impact of a mega resort casino? And who gets the mitigation money if casino construction wipes them of the face of the earth?

After the events of the summer, I often wonder if those of us who truly care about the character and health of our region are quickly becoming our own endangered species. But could it be possible that all the efforts that have gone into protecting the little Northern Red Bellied Cooter from extinction will, in the end, result in our own salvation from marauding preditors.

Speaking of whom... casino developers, the Governor, the Middleboro Board of Selectmen and their devoted boosters like to brag that that they’ll succeed in putting a casino on the South Shore. But perhaps the Northern Red Bellied Cooter, by slowly and steadily hanging on to life will help us win the race.

The hare soon left the tortoise far behind and, confident of winning, he decided to take a nap midway through the course. When he awoke, however, he found that his competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, had already won the race.
- From Aesop's Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare


Anonymous said...

Did you ever think you could learn to love a turtle so much?
There's so much negative against this project, hope the Feds listen!

Anonymous said...

Bats eat bugs,1000 mosquitos at a whack. Owls eat rodents and other vermine. Oh, so do snakes.Frogs eat bugs.Turtles eat bugs and vegetation. Experts say that the wetland species need natural wetlands to survive,man-made wetlands do not work.In Massachusetts alone there are thousands of acres of wetlands missing,missing? All because someone in a position to protect wetlands looked the other way.Do I need to mention that wetlands are natural sponges/filters for pollution.It's a factory of natural "cleaners" for the environment,think of it as worms in the garden on steriods.The time to act on behalf of the little creatures that protect us from a little of everything is now (more like yesterday).P.S. in the last twenty years I have seen "all types" of wildlife,just strolling thru the woods. I've seen a box turtle on the Wareham/Boro line.Countless types of Snakes,Birds etc.Always less and less every few years.Don't forget that the folks who say,"who cares,it's progress" will be the first to complain that a deer or any other wild creature(coyotes) is eating their shrubs,garden,or even their pets.Keep on destroying the environment and see what happens. Maybe not to you,but definitely to future generations.

carverchick said...

The Northern red-bellied cooter is but one of several endangered species found in this State. In Middleboro alone, the MA Fisheries and Wildlife has listed 25 rare animal and plants that are listed as endangered, threatened or of specific concern. I wonder if the "stewards of the land" have given this any thought.

Jacquie, as far as Cooters Restaurant goes, look at it this way -- the pro's will finally be getting that five star restaurant that they have been pining for.....what a fun evening out in Middleboro it will be - Yum! Just think, People will come from all over the world to eat at the famous cooters restaurant - the only one of its kind.

Steve said...

If the NRB Cooter can be found in "just one state. Ours", how do you explain this map, which shows the NRB Cooter's range to be most of northeastern Virginia, and this page, which never notes the Cooter as "endangered"?

Am I missing something here?

Gladys Kravitz said...

Hi Steve,

When I first read the article about the cooter in the Globe, it gave me hope.

So I did some research and I also came across the Virginia pages you mention. It was very confusing, so I dug deeper and came across this web site for MassWildlife as part of National Heritage Foundation.

This site clearly identifies the Northern Red Bellied Cooter as Endagered at both State and Federal levels.

Digging even deeper, I discovered this page which has this to say about the cooter in question:

RANGE: The Northern Red-bellied Cooter in is an isolated disjunct population in Massachusetts and is currently confined to ponds within Plymouth County. This population of turtles was formerly described as a distinct subspecies, P. rubriventris bangsi (Plymouth Redbelly Turtle).

MassWildlife also footnotes this particular cooter as follows: This species is listed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as P. r. bangsi (Plymouth Redbelly Turtle) in 50 CFR 17.11.

Now Steve, I'm no scientist, and have never professed to be, but it seems to me that the phrase isolated disjunct population indicates that this cooter is some sort of separate sub species. And that this particular cooter is unique to Mass. But hey, I could be wrong.

So like I said, I saw the cooter as a sign of hope for casino opponents - who, not unlike the gentle cooter, face the prospect of having their quality of life bulldozed by some guys with a hell of a lot more money and power than they do.

And my blog was written to convey that message, along with some interesting information about this critter, for my regular readers, many of whom live in Plymouth county.

Thanks for visiting,