Volunteers save turtles at Annapolis Harbour Center
Anne Arundel County officials are draining the pond and digging out the bottom, increasing its capacity by making the pond deeper, while also making other improvements which will enhance the pond’s ability to filter pollutants from the rainwater that runs into it from the surrounding 36.3 acres.
Ultimately the project will add habitat and bring the older-style stormwater pond up to date, helping the county meet federal pollution reduction goals. But the work will require heavy equipment. And for turtles, whose instinct is to hunker down into the mud rather than run, that could be a death sentence.
Since mid-May, more than 30 volunteers have been working to move the turtles temporarily to an alternate pond, where they will be safe from construction equipment until the project’s completion. As of May 28, 26 turtles have been transplanted from the pond at Harbour Center to a temporary home nearby.
When dropping off nine of those at the new pond Wednesday, Jeff Popp of the Terrapin Institute said goodbye.
« See you guys in a few months, » Popp said.
Popp is an Annapolis resident and volunteer with the Terrapin Institute, which has undertaken the turtle-saving effort in conjunction with Anne Arundel County, the South River Federation and the pond’s owner, Lerner Enterprises.
« It’s just something that people don’t think about, because most wildlife moves, » Popp said.
« A turtle’s natural habit is to bury in the mud, » Popp said.
Turtles are the most endangered vertebrates in the world, Popp said. They live very long and reproduce very slowly. Pond retrofitting projects, such as the one at Harbour Center, have the potential to kill a huge population of turtles in one swoop, Popp said.
To prevent that from happening, volunteers have set up five traps in the pond, which they are using to capture the red-eared sliders, painted turtles and red-bellied turtles that inhabit it.
Once caught, the turtles are measured and assessed. Two marks are etched into their shells so they can be identified later, both for research purposes and so the correct turtles can be returned to the Harbour Center pond once the construction work is complete.
Work will start on the pond project in two to three weeks, said Robb Fish, an Education & Outreach Specialist with the county’s Watershed Protection & Restoration Program.
The pond was originally constructed in the early 1990s. The water in the pond drains from 36.3 acres, 27.1 of which is impervious surface, such as pavement.
In addition to adding capacity to the stormwater pond, the changes will allow the pond to absorb polluted stormwater more efficiently, slowing it down and reducing untreated runoff into Church Creek.
Church Creek is a part of the South River watershed. The county estimates that the project will lead to a reduction of 177.9 pounds of nitrogen per year, 27.1 pounds of phosphorous per year, and 8.7 tons of sediment per year.
The estimated construction cost for the pollution reduction and habitat improvement project is $356,923, according to a county report.
« Hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll have a nice new pond here, » Fish said.