PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Friday was a good day to come out of your shell, especially if you're a western pond turtle in Washington state.
Unfortunately, the western pond turtle is on the endangered species list in the state, where it's one of just two native species. But, the Woodland Park Zoo has been leading the charge to change that.
"Our mission is simple," said Kevin Murphy with the zoo. "We've been working with the state for 30 years to give these turtles a break, so to speak, against invasive predators like bullfrogs. We raise them just to the point where they're just above the size where a bullfrog could consume them and give them a chance to establish themselves."
More than 30 western pond turtles were carefully prepared for their release at a protected property outside of Tacoma on Friday that was developed for this type of conservation.
A small crowd of zoo and wildlife officials, along with some political leaders who have championed the annual turtle release, gathered at the site Friday to watch the release.
"There's marshy areas cut in so the turtles can move from pond to pond and settle in their choice of habitat," explained Jim Terry, a volunteer with the turtle conservation project.
Terry said monitoring the turtles is a full-time effort, even for a volunteer. "I've been out there at three in the morning, just waiting for a turtle to finish laying her eggs," said Terry.
Each turtle is monitored by a number marking, microchip and a shell notching.
Stephanie Miller, with Woodland Park Zoo, said, "their shells are made of the same material as our finger nails so it’s like if I gave myself a really whacky manicure."
Woodland Park Zoo has teamed with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to reverse a concerning trend that resulted in only around 150 Western Pond Turtles in Washington state. That was in 1990 and since that time, the "Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project" has resulted in more than 2,500 turtles being re-introduced to the Puget Sound and Columbia River Gorge.
Surveys indicate more than 800 turtles have survived and continue to thrive at six sites.