Dozens of Turtles Relocated During Arnold Arboretum Ponds’ Restoration

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Turtles, toads, frogs, and catfish were all relocated this spring as part of the Arnold Arboretum's dredging project of two of its ponds.

If you've been by the trio of the Arboretum's ponds recently you probably noticed there was roping and fencing around Rehder and Faxon ponds. There were also floating and bucket traps set generously provided by Zoo New England, which caught turtles more than 80 times since April 20, said Arnold Arboretum Horticulturist Brendan Keegan to Jamaica Plain News. Keegan stressed that visitors not go around the roping and fencing, as it can stress out the Arboretum's wildlife.

One of the snapping turtles caught at the Arnold Arboretum May 2021.

The number of individual turtles caught are probably in the 50 to 60 range, said Keegan. Last summer the zoo trapped 38 total turtles, and notched the carapace of each trapped turtle so they could be identified in the future. As of May 27, at least 10 more un-notched turtles that the Zoo didn't capture have been caught. But the count of 80 is due to the same turtles being caught numerous times as they went back to the two ponds being dredged.

One-year old painted turtle caught at Arnold Arboretum Spring 2021.

"We have removed snapping turtles, painted turtles, red eared sliders, American bullfrogs, American toads, and even a brown bullhead catfish from a combination of floating traps and land-based bucket trap," said Keegan, adding that the catfish was about a foot long.

But the turtles didn't go too far away. The snapping turtles and painted turtles were relocated to Dawson Pond, a mere 100 feet away from Rehder and Faxon ponds. Keegan said Dawson Pond was dredged about 10 years ago and is a perfect safe haven for the turtles during the dredging process.

Bullfrog caught at Arnold Arboretum spring 2021.

Traps were set in Rehder and Faxon ponds to catch wildlife during the dredging project.

"We moved any red-eared sliders that we caught to Bussey Brook Meadow, along Blackwell Path. Red-eared sliders are an invasive species. They grow larger than our native painted turtles, and so can outcompete them for basking spots and feeding territories," said Keegan. "Based on the Zoo's past surveying work in our ponds, we are confident there are only around 5-10 red-eared sliders in our ponds. All of these turtles were once pets, released into our wetlands once they outgrew their owner's tanks."

Keegan pointed out that visitors should not release any fish or turtles into the Arboretum. While it may seem like a kind thing to do for a pet, it can lead to unfortunate consequences for native wildlife.

Arnold Arboretum staff receive training about the traps to catch wildlife during the dredging of two ponds.

The Arboretum created a Spring Wonder Spot by the ponds for people of all ages, particularly children, to learn about the project. Things such as pond succession, the purpose of sediment layers, the value of ponds to and more are explained.

The ponds are actually human-made and part of the a drainage system that helps to move storm water by slowly filtering and channeling it to the North Meadow.

The turtles will be returning once the dredging is complete and the conditions are safe. The barriers and traps will be removed and the turtles will be allowed to come and go as they please at that point, although things will seem a little different.

A tiny snapping turtle caught during the dredging.

"One of the consequences of the dredging is that we unfortunately had to remove much of the turtles' favorite pondside vegetation, supportive basking structures, and sunny shallow areas that they prefer," said Keegan. "To make up for this, we intend to 'plant' dead trees and logs along the shoreline to give them structures to bask on (and hide underneath) while the vegetation regrows. We will also plant native plants to restore the parts of the shoreline that were degraded by the movement of the dredging equipment into and out of the ponds."

Keegan said the plan is to finish dredging by June 11, and to finish dewatering the sediment bags by early August.