Dam repairs dangerous for heroes in a half-shell

College students and Lake Boulevard residents will no doubt be disturbed by the draining and subsequent construction on Lake Ceva. But their discomfort is nothing compared to what some other Ewing residents, the snapping turtles living in the lake itself, will have to undergo.

“The turtles are slated to be removed, along with the fish, from Lake Ceva, during the drain-down process and relocated over to Lake Sylva,” William Rudeau, director of Construction, said. He emphasized that the project is mandated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

The turtles will be captured by pushing them up to the shore and then placing them individually in buckets, which will be taken to Lake Sylva. The fish will be captured either by net or by using electrodes to shock the fish, temporarily stunning them and causing them to float to the surface, according to Rudeau.

To Michael Pesa, senior biology major, the advantage of moving the wildlife to Lake Sylva is that they will be saved from freezing during the winter. However, Pesa, who has worked with the turtles since the summer of 2004, asserted that the plan is not perfect.

“Cons are numerous,” he said. “The turtles could try to walk back to Lake Ceva, their home.”

Pesa also suggested that moving wildlife to Lake Sylva could have an adverse effect on that lake’s life as well.

“If Lake Sylva already has as many turtles as it can support, adding more could drive the least fit to die out,” Pesa said.

Moving the turtles back to Lake Ceva after construction will also present problems, since, unless the turtles are marked beforehand, it will be impossible to tell an individual’s original habitat.

“I suppose the relocation process is like if you took 100 freshmen from Travers (and) put them in Wolfe, without knowing their names,” Pesa said. “You wouldn’t know if in Wolfe everyone would adapt to the increased population density or if there would be some attempts to move back to Travers. Then, months later, you’d almost randomly be moving some people out of Wolfe back to Travers, probably taking some original Wolfe residents with them.”

Lake Sylva already has about 500 turtles of its own, including painted turtles, red-eared sliders, musk turtles, red-bellied turtles and other common snapping turtles.

In contrast, Lake Ceva is primarily home to snapping turtles, some of which weigh up to 40 pounds and are decades older than any student.

Unlike other turtles, snapping turtles spend almost all of their time in the water, making these turtles particularly sensitive to removal from the lake.

“After they hatch on land and head into the water, the males never set foot on land again, and the females only leave to lay eggs,” Pesa said. “They don’t really bask in the sun like some other turtles.”

Pesa has spent two summers working with the snapping turtles as part of the Biology Summer Research Program, studying basic ecology in Lake Ceva with former biology professor Dr. Charles Peterson, currently employed at another institution.

“(The snapping turtles) are part of an incredibly vibrant ecosystem that (the College) is lucky to have on campus,” Pesa said. “The lakes provide habitat and food for everything from insects to fish to the turtles and frogs, up to the herons and hawks that visit.”

The Fish and Wildlife division of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) plans to move all wildlife living in the lake by the end of November. For now, Pesa is resigned to that plan.

“I have to have confidence that they know what is best,” he said.

However, Pesa plans on personally ensuring the animals’ safety.

“(NJDEP) will most likely let me go poke around with a net once the water level is down to around two feet in the center, to see if there are any still in there,” he said.

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Myles Ma