The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society invites you to

Seminar 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008
Registration 9:30 a.m.; Sessions 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

Central Park Zoo — The Gallery
64th Street and 5th Avenue, New York City

(Enter around rear of Arsenal building.)

NYTTS was honored to present Seminar 2008 at the Central Park Zoo for the first time.  On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the CPZ is easily accessible by public transportation.  Visit the Central Park Zoo’s Web site for Directions to the Zoo.  See a slide show of snapshots from the meeting below.

Scheduled Program

Russell Burke

Russell Burke holding gopher tortoise
Russell Burke
Department of Biology, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York

“Utilizing Volunteers in Turtle Research
to Do Citizen Science”

     Among all the species that biologists study, turtles have a special position with the public because turtles are charismatic, they are often conspicuous, and are often found near people. Turtles therefore are accessible and are usually non-threatening. In my work with diamondback terrapins in Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City, more potential volunteers contact me than I can manage productively. I have learned it is extremely important to identify volunteers that are more likely to be helpful and to determine which tasks are appropriate for volunteers. The general public often has very different ideas about what kind of work is important than do scientists, and a considerable amount of my time is spent explaining why we do what we do. For example, most non-scientists want us to protect hatchlings, kill predators, and head-start hatchlings, while I am more concerned with protecting habitat for adults. I will review the benefits and problems of working with volunteers, describe some of the more important findings that have come about as the result of volunteer assistance, and propose a new project for NYTTS.

     Russell’s longstanding interest in reptiles was the major influence in his decision to pursue a career in biology. As a child, he collected local snakes and keeping them in captivity. A major complaint growing up was that there were no venomous snakes near where he lived, and he seized the earliest opportunities to visit places in Florida where they were abundant. As an undergraduate he fell in love with sea turtles while reading Archie Carr’s So Excellente a Fishe. This led to graduate work on gopher tortoises, then the usual array of Midwestern freshwater turtles, then diamondback terrapins in New York.

      Russell Burke earned a B.S. in zoology from Ohio State University, an M.S. in wildlife ecology from the University of Florida at Gainesville, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Michigan. He has been teaching biology, ecology, evolution, conservation biology, and herpetology at Hofstra University since 1996.




Bruce Foster

Bruce Foster, Collections Manager,
Central Park Zoo
Bruce Foster
Collections Manager, Central Park Zoo,
Wildlife Conservation Society

“Welcome to the Central Park Zoo”

      Central Park Zoo Collections Manager Bruce Foster will give a short presentation on the Zoo and its unique exhibits. Bruce has long been involved with the design and development of exhibits for both Jungle World at the Bronx Zoo and those at Central Park.

   Most recently Bruce has been involved in the Species Survival Plan for the Puerto Rican crested toad, a species the U.S. Endangered Species Act lists as Threatened, and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers it to be Critically Endangered.

     The Puerto Rican crested toad project is one way that zoos are helping to stop the global loss of amphibian species. See “Toads with a Task: Go Forth, and Multiply” on the Wildlife Conservation Society Web site (includes video clip of Bruce Foster on the crested toad conservation program).




George Heinrich with alligator snapping turtle

George Heinrich holding an
alligator snapping turtle
George L. Heinrich
Heinrich Ecological Services, St. Petersburg, Florida

“Recent Efforts to Conserve
Florida’s Non-marine Turtles”

     Habitat diversity and species richness (over 8 percent of the world’s known turtle species) make Florida a chelonian hotspot. Over half of the 25 species that occur in the state are in need of conservation attention, yet most research and conservation funds are spent on high profile species, such as marine turtles. Seldom seen and often overlooked, many of Florida’s non-marine species receive little to no attention. Certainly, the threats to turtles and their ecosystems present broad conservation challenges. However, despite the urgency of the Florida situation, the opportunities for conservation remain great.

     The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is of particular interest: a keystone species whose upland burrow provides a home for at least 364 other species facilitating biodiversity. This declining species is receiving increased attention from the state wildlife agency—the release of a revised management plan and uplisting to “threatened” status both occurred in 2007.

     Exploitation of turtles for human consumption has a long history in Florida. A discovery of 164 Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) carcasses near Cedar Key in 2004 confirmed continued exploitation of this state-listed “Species of Special Concern.” Despite being listed, several imperiled riverine species have a legal take (limited) allowed. In addition, commercial harvest of freshwater turtles is a growing problem that may be exacerbated by increasing populations of cultures that traditionally eat turtles. Clearly, commercial harvest is unsustainable and the state wildlife agency is currently examining this threat.

     Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin)—once common in brackish ecosystems along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S. —have suffered from a long history of human exploitation. Florida represents approximately 20 percent of the species’ entire range and is considered the single most important state for terrapin conservation. Current efforts include a state-funded distribution survey in the Big Bend region, as well as a proposed regulatory change requiring the use of bycatch reduction devices on crab pots to reduce terrapin mortality.

     George L. Heinrich owns and operates Heinrich Ecological Services, a St. Petersburg–based company conducting wildlife surveys and research, natural history programming, and nature-based tours.  A graduate of Memphis State University, his interests include southeastern upland and brackish wetland ecosystems, conservation challenges facing Florida’s non-marine turtles, and the role of education in conserving herpetofauna. He has worked for over 20 years on the conservation of gopher tortoises and has studied the ecology and conservation needs of diamondback terrapins as part of a University of North Florida research team since 1995. George has served twice as co-chair of the Gopher Tortoise Council and is the founding president of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust.






Peter Pritchard in his library
at the Chelonian Research Institute
Peter C. H. Pritchard
Chelonian Research Institute, Oviedo, Florida

“State of the World’s Sea Turtles ”

     More than three decades after the passage of the Endangered Species Act, and nearly 400 years after the Bermuda Assembly passed the world’s first sea turtle protection legislation, the time has come to review progress. There is good news and bad news. The recent history of the Kemp’s ridley indicates that comprehensive protection measures can indeed yield good results, and other Atlantic turtle stocks, including those of the green turtle and leatherback, are also doing well. On the other hand, the global status of hawksbills is not yet secure, and although East Pacific olive ridleys show great strength at two of the historic arribada sites, leatherbacks along Pacific shores of the Americas have collapsed drastically in recent decades.

          Peter Pritchard, one of the world’s foremost experts on turtles and tortoises, is well known to NYTTS members. He is the Director of the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Florida, which houses one of the largest collections of turtle specimens in the world. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Oxford and his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, where he studied marine turtles with Archie Carr as his major professor. Peter has written eight books about turtles, the most recent a semi-autobiographical work entitled Tales from the Thébaïde. He has studied turtles in many parts of the world, and for several decades has operated a field station in Guyana for protection of nesting marine turtles. Currently, his main activities involve turtles and tortoises in the Galápagos Islands and in eastern Asia, as well as performing a variety of roles in the administration and operation of the Chelonian Research Institute.



Snapshots from the Seminar 2008
April 12, Central Park Zoo
Photos by Anita Salzberg

NYTTS President Suzanne Dohm welcomes all to the 23rd Annual Seminar.




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