For the Baby Box Turtle – reworking our yards

I found this tiny Florida box turtle in December of 2021 while I was out in my yard. It was so small, I was nervous to let it walk back into the wild – but I did. I couldn’t believe it was so small -just a tad larger than a silver dollar. I immediately realized, “box turtles are breeding in our yard!” Over sixteen years,  I have seen adult box turtles occasionally, but not often, maybe once every five years. As box turtles wait until their late teens to reproduce and can live to the ripe age of eighty, I imagine box turtles lived at Riverview before Ed and I did. But I like to think that Ed and I helped them recently -have this baby- by naturalizing our yard.

Last night I was reading and it made me think about the baby box turtle…

In his best selling book, Nature’s Best Hope, A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, Douglas W. Tallamy writes about the population demise of the Eastern Box Turtle – there are six types in North America. The one I found was a Florida Box Turtle. Tallamy discusses a better wildlife future if we all would offset the “isolation” of our modern (large lawns and ornamental landscaping) and “create connectivity.” This is not a difficult thing to do. By “shrinking our lawns,” and adding more native, and thus wildlife valuable landscaping, we create connectivity, like wildlife corridors -giving the box turtles and other wildlife a large area to live and breed- rather than thinking they can live and breed endlessly on a sterile postage stamp.

I have written many times, that Ed and I stopped fertilizing in 2008, and then slowly expanded our planting beds, adding more native plants. By 2018 we had no grass, added rocks for walking paths and native plants for a butterfly garden. This has really paid off as far as bringing more birds and wildlife! It’s more healthy. No fertilizer. No pesticides. Considerably less watering. And now a baby box turtle!

Sewall Point, Aurthur Ruhnke ca.1950, Thurlow Archives.

This 1950’s Aurthur Ruhnke Sewall’s Point aerial from my mother, Sandra Thurlow’s book of the same name, reveals the peninsular Sewall’s Point landscape between the St Lucie River/Indian RiverLagoon of the 1950s before major subdividing. Other than the naive people, Sewall’s Point’s first residents settled in the late 1800s when Sewall’s Point was a natural coastal landscape, and on higher ground, a hardwood hammock. Today, practically no natural landscape is left. Hundreds of wildlife habitat acres developed, now filled with sterile, water demanding lawns, and mostly “ornamentals” that hold no wildlife value. Luckily, there remain quite a few giant trees such as oak, gumbo limbo, strangler-fig, satin leaf, paradise, mastic, and hickory. Replanting with natives and less lawn would look more like the photo above and less like the Google Earth image below. So, to Mr Tallamy’s point, if we all planted more natives (and I know many of you have! 🙂 and less grass in our yards, even though we are now so split up (isolated) we could build connectivity for wildlife throughout Sewall’s Point and everywhere. He notes nature doesn’t just belong in parks!

Having spent the last sixteen years fighting for the St Lucie River, I have come to understand the important connection of the land to the water. The little box turtle may not live in the river, but the baby turtle is a sign of health for the lands that are connected to the waters. And this really makes me smile.

Baby turtle going back to from where it had come after I photographed it. It’s a big world out there! Good luck little box turtle!

8 thoughts on “For the Baby Box Turtle – reworking our yards

  1. Jacqui, when I grow up in Stuart, we had quite a few gopher tortoises around our house, which was on the fringe of Stuart at that time (Bessie Addition, I think.) Do you still see the gophers now? We still have them on Marco Island, but they’re disappearing because most of the locks are now built on and their habitat is greatly diminished.

    1. Dear Henry-I have seen two gopher tortoises in Sewall’s Point in 16 years. Since the 5 acre parcel behind Riverview was set up for development about 7 years ago, I have seen zero. I believe they took these poor gopher tortoises off to a farm of sorts. I have seen none in Stuart, and a couple in Jensen Beach by the railroad tracks. Probably now widened for BRIGHTLINE. It is so sad that gopher tortoises- as a protected species- are carted off as state law when development calls. I am sorry about Marco Island losing its gophers. Now that you have brought it up, I think I will do a blog on these “condominiums for gophers” which has been in the news a lot lately; and with all the development there are not enough places to put the gophers. Shameful. They are a keystone species.

  2. Hi Jacqui:

    May I make a request? I’d love to read your take on the one billion that President Biden announced for Evergaldes Restoration.
    I’ve seen very conflicting reports on what this money will do.
    Thank you kindly.

    1. Dear Mrs Trombely,
      1.1 billion “extra” dollars for Everglades Restoration is a great thing on top of record State funding (under DeSantis) and recent record Fed. funding since 2019-2022.

      This below from SFWMD should be helpful about what will be done.

      From JTL: The Indian River Lagoon South project will directly help the St Lucie River with very bad discharges from canals C=23 and C-24. (Great news.)

      “Today, the Biden Administration and U.S. Army Corps announced $1.1 billion in one-time funding for Everglades restoration as part of the recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (sometimes called the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal”).

      In the Corps’ workplan for this one-time funding, they indicate the funding will complete three Everglades projects and complete the planning reports known as Project Implementation Report (PIR) for two additional projects. PIRs are required prior to a project being authorized by Congress or receiving federal appropriations for construction.

      Fully Funded Construction of Projects
      C-11 Impoundment in Broward County
      S-356 Pump Station in Miami-Dade County
      C-23/24 North Reservoir (Indian River Lagoon-South) in St. Lucie County

      Project Planning Reports to Be Completed (Does Not Include Construction of Projects)
      Biscayne Bay & Southern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration
      Western Everglades Restoration Project”

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