Girl Scouts Help Scientist Conserve Turtles in U.S.

Holly Fisher
The Summerville Journal Scene (South Carolina)
August 16, 2002

Ten Girl Scouts from around the country converged on South Carolina's Beidler Forest recently to look for spotted turtles, explore nature and find out girls can be scientists, too.

For the second year, the Girl Scouts of America and the National Geographic Society teamed up for a leadership institute. Last year's group visited National Geographic in Washington, D.C. This year, the high school juniors and seniors donned backpacks and rubber boots to help in a turtle conservation project.

For the last three years, Jacqueline Litzgus, a doctorate candidate from the University of South Carolina, has been researching spotted turtles and their behavior at Beidler Forest. Last week she had ten helpers as she tracked the turtles with a radio transmitting system, logging their location, weight and habitat.

On Wednesday, Litzgus led the girls through the forest, demonstrating her tracking device. She has attached radio transmitters to 16 turtles—12 females and four males. Each turtle is assigned a kind of "radio station." Litzgus tunes her tracking device to the specific radio frequency, points the antennae and listens for the beeps to grow louder as the turtle gets closer.

Breanne Cisneros of California tried her hand at tracking a male turtle. Cisneros, who wants to be a neurologist, found tracking a turtle is harder than it looks. It's difficult to distinguish the beeps, she said.

The first tracking led the group to a female turtle hiding out under some logs and leaves. The scouts took turns reading the GPS monitor to determine the turtle's exact location, recording its habitat and behavior, and weighing the turtle. Each girl took a turn holding the turtle, examining its underside and feeling its smooth head. They all posed for a photograph holding the black turtle, which is adorned with yellowish spots.

All the information the scouts gathered this week will help the turtles survive dwindling habitats and poachers who sell the turtles around the country and overseas as pets.

Litzgus has a passion for protecting the small creatures. She has spent the last several years observing the spotted turtle not only in Beidler Forest, but in her homeland of Canada as well.

The spotted turtle, which can be found in pockets from Ontario down through the eastern United States into Florida, is a declining species. Litzgus' research of turtles in Ontario and South Carolina will help protect the turtles and keep them from becoming an endangered species.

As Litzgus was studying the turtles in the North, she began wondering how the turtles in the South behaved and how they lived and reproduced.

That led her to the Southeast, where a contact at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources suggested she visit Beidler Forest with its strong spotted turtle population.

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