Slow and Steady Help for Local Turtles
by Alex Ivey
Stretching across one of Florida's richest aquatic preserves, State Highway 27 provides local residents with modern, convenient access to the counties and towns surrounding Tallahassee, the state capital. But for area turtles in search of suitable water sources-a need made even more pressing by the state's recent drought-this four-lane highway is something far more sinister: It is a virtually insurmountable barrier, made even more so by the roughly 36,000 vehicles that speed along its length every day.
According to Matthew Aresco, a Ph.D candidate in the biology department at Florida State University, turtles have migrated between the preserves surrounding nearby Lake Jackson for thousands of years without a problem. When the highway opened in the mid-1960s, however, the naturally slow turtles became sitting ducks for the high-speed vehicles using the highway. Although Aresco has only monitored such casualties since early 2000, the threat that the highway poses to the turtles is clear.
"Between February 2000 and the present," Aresco explains, "my temporary fences intercepted and saved 8,016 turtles, but 561 others-who either climbed over or went around the barriers-were killed."
To find a long term solution to this problem, Mr. Aresco and a number of concerned citizens and wildlife enthusiasts have turned to local and county authorities for assistance in the installation of permanent versions of Mr. Aresco's culverts. The estimated cost of such an undertaking is $250,000.
"Presently, there are federal programs that could potentially accommodate this type of project," says H.E. Prescott, P.E., the secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, Leon County District. "But the Tallahassee-Leon County Metropolitan Planning Organization must endorse the project by ranking it along with their other requests to the department."
Logistical problems abound. The culverts would need to be large enough for light to pour through, because the turtles won't enter an edifice with no visible end in sight. The culverts also need to be no more that 1,000 feet apart to prevent the turtles from dangers such as sun exposure and predators.
For now, the residents of Leon County, including Mr. Aresco, patiently await a resolution.
"For the most part, the local response has been very positive, both from citizens and county government," Aresco says.
In the meantime, the turtles continue to safely make it across the highway thanks to a few concerned citizens and a handful of carefully placed temporary culverts.
How You Can Help
Read a list of the species rescued along highway 27.
Write the authorities to show your support for Leon County's turtle population.
Live in the area and want to get more involved? Click here.
Contact the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Project now.
Read about the Federal Government's initiatives in other parts of the country.
Matthew Aresco, a Ph.D candidate in the biology department at Florida State University. Click here to see his Lake Jackson Turtles website.