Turtles Provide Vital Clues About Fresh Kills’ Ecological Recovery

June 30, 2013 | The University

By: Amanda Farinacci

July 9, 2013

Scientists are looking into how well the former Fresh Kills dump on Staten Island dump is making the transition to parkland, and they are getting a helping hand — or flipper — from turtles. Borough reporter Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

It used to be the only wildlife one could find at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island were sea gulls, feeding off the massive piles of garbage that made up the world’s largest landfill.

Now, 12 years after the old dump was closed, the gulls are gone and the space is now home to deer, foxes and many kinds of birds.

“It’s really providing amazing habitat for diverse wildlife,” said Eugenia Naro-Maciel of the College of Staten Island.

Researchers at the College of Staten Island are currently trying to find out the quality of the area’s water, for clues on how well the transformation from landfill to park is going.

Turtles can help, according to the researchers, because they stay in one place, live a long time and feed high up on the food chain. That means if there are toxins in the water turtles live in, researchers will be able to tell.

“If you have like one gram of toxin X in a particular prey item and the turtle eats 10 of them, you’ll find 9 to 10 grams in the turtle. And then that way, you can really judge if there’s any heavy metal or any nasty nasties in the ecosystem,” said Seth Wollney of the College of Staten Island.

Turtles are baited with sardines and caught using a trap set overnight. On Tuesday, 25 were collected, mostly painted and snapper turtles, two species commonly found all over the country.

The turtles were measured, weighed and marked, to keep track of them.

“Just to find so many of them, and they’re different sizes,” said research student Robert Pashay.

The turtles were quickly set back into the water. Come winter, the researchers will analyze the data they have collected and compared it to results from a 100-year-old pond on the island’s South Shore.

“The ponds here are definitely not as healthy as the ponds that we work with down on the South Shore, but that might just be because these ponds are only 20 years old,” said Wollney.

The full study will not be complete until 2016. Researchers are hoping their results will help Fresh Kills administrators understand what works and what doesn’t as the space is transformed from landfill to a sound, ecologically healthy park.

Originally published by NY 1