A ‘common’ species at risk
By Lea Hogdal
When thinking of endangered species, the giant panda and rhinoceros may come to mind. However, there is another species at stake, one typically perceived as too common to be endangered.
Fifty-two percent of the 335 species of turtles found around the world are headed towards extinction.
As part of the Huxley college speaker series, Eric Munscher, a research ecologist with Environmental Consultants (SWCA), came and spoke about turtle survival and what has and continues to stand in the way of their species. According to the Huxley website, he has been studying turtle populations in Florida and Texas for more than 18 years.
Travis Kurtz, a post-baccalaureate student at Western, sees talks like this one as a necessity for awareness.
“I think it’s important for people, not like me, who don’t have a specific interest in pursuing this as a career to learn more about the kinds of things that are happening in species conservation, so that they are aware that it’s not all doom and gloom. There are people out there trying to really make a difference,” Kurtz said.
Munscher spoke to the audience about the Turtle Survival Alliance, a group dedicated to conserving and researching a variety of turtle species found worldwide. He wishes to change people’s perceptions about turtles.
“A lot of our turtle species in the united states are perceived as common, which is a horrible label for a wildlife species. The most common bird at one time was the passenger pigeon and now it’s gone, it’s extinct.”
Turtles face many threats depending on the areas they live in. One of these threats, Munscher says, is temperature change which can drastically affect the sex ratio of turtle populations. Eggs are dependent on this temperature to determine the sex.
“If you have habitats that have been modified by human hands, nesting beaches might be too hot and will steer your sex ratio towards males. We actually have a study site in Texas where we have three males to every female for one of the species there.”
Taylor Webb, a junior at Western, believes in the importance of going to events like these as they raise awareness on environmental issues. What was most shocking in the presentation was the poaching, selling and even eating of the turtles, Webb said.
“It’s really scary and sad what people are willing to do just for money, at the sake of other living beings.”
One turtle species, the Wood turtle, is currently being sold for $800 on the black market, said Munscher, due to it being pretty and not very large in size.
Munscher and the Turtle Survival Alliance are a part of a larger movement to conserve. Through long-term monitoring of different turtle species in the US they continue to learn about how their environments are affecting them and how to properly protect them.
To take part in this speaker series and learn about other environmental topics, visit the free presentations held every Thursday at Academic Instructional Center West room 204.