By Gina Martinez
Recently, residents have posted photos to social media of the dead turtles and the dirty conditions at the pond, leading to speculation that litter is the cause.
But according to the Parks Department, while litter negatively affects the environment, it’s unlikely that it could cause the high number of deaths. The agency believes the deaths could be linked to the weather.
“During the winter, turtles go into torpor (a decreased state of activity, similar to hibernation) as a survival method,” the Parks Department said in a statement. “It’s possible that these deaths could be linked to a cold spell after the first warmth of the season already brought them out of winter torpor. Another possibility is disease, which can affect turtle populations.”
A Parks spokeswoman said the department has sent several of the turtles to a lab to be tested and is awaiting results. The department is also working to send a water sample to the Department of Environmental Conservation for testing, and in the meantime, will continue to monitor the pond.
Parks said another possible cause could be people abandoning pet turtles in a habitat they are not meant to be in.
“These turtles are likely red-ear sliders,” the Parks Department said, “one of the country’s most popular types of turtles to keep as pets, and many sliders have been abandoned in the city’s parks by people who lost interest in keeping them. This is dangerous for both the red-eared slider and for native turtles. A pet slider is not accustomed to hibernating during the winter when lakes and ponds freeze over, and may introduce diseases to wild populations as well as compete with them for food resources. Parks are not suitable homes for animals not indigenous — domesticated or otherwise.”
The Parks Department currently has a capital project underway to reconstruct Bowne pond. The goal is to improve water quality, lessen algae, and control erosion on the surrounding slopes. The project, the design for which is still being finalized, will include a new filtration system, new pipes, and landscape improvements to minimize erosion.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) allocated $1.45 million in capital funding for improvements to Bowne Park’s pond in 2014.
“I’m no marine biologist, but dying turtles are a cause for alarm,” he said. “We have been patiently waiting for the Parks Department to upgrade the water fountains and filtration system in the pond as it will improve and preserve Bowne Park for decades to come.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart