URI grad student: RI’s spotted turtle population dwindling

KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — After research, a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island says a once-common variety of local turtle is in trouble.

Scott Buchanan, a New Jersey native, has visited 88 Rhode Island wetlands over the past three years, URI officials said Monday. In that time, he’s observed nearly 2,000 turtles of four different species, but just 50 were spotted turtles. The species is considered of “high conservation concern” in the state, and is currently a candidate for the U.S. endangered species list, while Canada has already classified the species as endangered.

Buchanan’s observations found spotted turtles are associated with wetlands in forested landscapes. Therefore, they’re susceptible to development and other effects of human life.

More spotted turtles remained in locations where human disturbance has been minimal, he said: “So now it’s a matter of managing those landscapes in an appropriate way.”

Wild turtles are coveted by pet fanciers. Buchanan said he confronted several people during his research who had captured spotted turtles, but agreed to release them upon his pleas.

Buchanan also found turtles that were not native to the wetland areas: a species called a “red-eared slider” that are often bought at pet stores. He believes several owners no longer wished to care for them and released them into the wild — but, “They’re an especially detrimental invasive species,” he said.

Buchanan called for the protection and preservation of wetlands large and small — including vernal, or temporary, pools, where turtles sometimes spend the winter.