Source: DOE OREM | Release | July 14, 2016

Turtle Study

CRESO Director John Byrd provides direction to students gathering data for their research on the region’s box turtle. The organization’s study of turtles is the largest in the world.

The Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization (CRESO) recently conducted its annual search for Tennessee’s state reptile, the Eastern Box Turtle.

The organization is conducting the largest health study of box turtles in the world to learn how local human activity is impacting their health and habitat.

CRESO is an education and research program that is made possible through grant funding from EM’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM).

“Protecting the environment is a major component of our mission,” said OREM Manager Sue Cange. “For more than 20 years, we have proudly supported this local organization that is truly making an impact and difference in our community by conducting valuable research and instilling students with the values and knowledge to become the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Founded in 1989, CRESO promotes community outreach and provides middle and high school and undergraduate students opportunities for unique field research and experience in research design and protocols, data management and analysis, biology, resources conservation and management.

In addition to constructing and restoring wetlands, students monitor populations and activity patterns for select species of turtles, snakes, amphibians, and birds in the East Tennessee ecosystem.

“Our mission at CRESO is to give students opportunities to participate in field research and hands-on education in land management and resource conservation,” said CRESO Director John Byrd. “With OREM’s support, we are making a difference in the lives and careers of young people, and we are able to conduct research that allows us to learn more about our community’s natural resources and wildlife so we can better protect them.”

During the week’s search for turtles, students worked with a unique partner, the Boykin Spaniel, a dog breed that has an uncanny ability to sniff out turtles. Boykins can swiftly find four to 12 turtles in an hour compared to the human ability of finding one every four hours. The Boykin’s soft mouth and calm, easy temperament ensure the turtles are not harmed.

Each turtle was given a GPS location, weighed and measured by students, and received a complete health physical by Dr. Matt Allender, a veterinarian and wildlife disease expert from the University of Illinois. Their efforts will give researchers valuable data to help them determine population densities, age structure, and health status of the Eastern Box Turtle, and implement better land management practices.

Since 2006, CRESO has used this method to study the response of box turtles in areas following timber harvests. Their efforts resulted in proposals for new land management strategies that could potentially reduce stress on the species.

Students who participate in CRESO projects share their findings and conservation ideas at science fairs, professional meetings, in science journals, and through outreach workshops. Since the organization’s inception, more than 500 students have served as primary researchers and hundreds more have experienced elements of the program as field assistants, visitors, or through outreach efforts. More than 95 percent of high school students who work for CRESO go on to enter STEM related paths after graduation.