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Cleaning turtles after the Kalamazoo River oil spill boosted their survival rates, a study finds

Josh Otten sits in a kayak and takes a photograph of a small turtle with his phone.
Sehvilla Mann
/
WMUK
Josh Otten photographing a turtle with his iPhone as part of his research on their survival rates.

The turtles did better within a year and two months of the spill if they had been captured, cleaned and treated.

After the 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, researchers captured and attempted to rehabilitate oiled turtles. Now a multiyear study out of the University of Toledo suggests those efforts made a difference.

Biologist Josh Otten wanted to know if cleaning and treating northern map turtles had improved their survival rates. He found that rehabilitated turtles did fare better than non-rehabbed turtles in the short term — that is, within fourteen months of the spill.

“The thousands of volunteer hours, the thousands of veterinary hours, you know, changing water and keeping these turtles helped the population quite a bit,” Otten said.

Still, about eight percent of northern map turtles known to have been oiled, died within a couple months of the massive spill from Enbridge Energy's Line 6B pipeline.

Northern map turtles are the most common turtle species in the Kalamazoo River. 

Otten also studied how the turtles were doing eight to eleven years after the spill. He says it appears rehabilitation has not influenced their long-term survival rates.

“That's why it's very important to do these follow-up studies, you know, years down the road, is because you might not pick that up immediately following the spill. It takes a few years until you see those effects take place,” Otten said.

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