February 10, 2011

North Carolina State Parks Declare 2011 "Year of the Turtle"

Carolina Beach State Park, Carolina Beach, NC
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Kure Beach, NC

Raleigh -- North Carolina state parks have declared 2011 the “Year of the Turtle,” with plans for a 12-month exploration of this wildlife resource through its interpretive programs, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

North Carolina is home to 21 turtle species, including the familiar box turtle, which burrows up to two feet beneath its upland forests in winter, and the rare loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles that lumber ashore to nest on its beaches. With the catch phrase “Come Out of Your Shell,” the parks will entice visitors to learn more about this abundance with special education programs, guided hikes and activities.

This marks the second year that state parks education programs have revolved around a specific nature theme, with 2010 being the “Year of the Birds,” featuring more than 600-bird-themed park activities. Coincidentally, the North Carolina aquariums and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are also participating in the “Year of the Turtle” through the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation consortium.

“An annual theme such as the ‘Year of the Turtle’ offers an additional pathway for adults and children to reconnect with nature in the state parks. Education is a core part of our mission, and the free interpretive programs developed by park rangers expand the experience of visitors,” said Lewis Ledford, director of the state parks system.

Once again, the state parks are celebrating the interpretive theme with original bandannas that feature illustrations of eight turtle species, designed from photos by state park rangers. The bandannas are available for $3 at the state parks and through the online web store at www.ncparks.gov.

Every state park has resident turtle populations, and the United States has more turtle biodiversity than any other country. But turtle populations worldwide have declined up to 40 percent. Turtles face threats including habitat loss and degradation, mortality from roads and predators, exotic invasive species and disease and climate change. Raising awareness about turtle species can help address broader environmental issues.

Although sea turtles are generally the turtle rock stars in this area, their land brethren are also pretty cool in their own right and deserve mention. Here are some of the types of turtles that can be found throughout areas of Pleasure Island:
Eastern Box Turtle
Eastern Chicken Turtle
Eastern Snapping Turtle
Striped Mud Turtle
Yellow-bellied Slider
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