Expanding global turtle demand spawns new rules in Georgia

The spiny softshell turtle is among several Georgia species that would be regulated by the state to prevent overharvesting by prolific commercial exporters.

Florida and South Carolina did it years ago, and Georgia is poised to adopt its own rules to regulate an expanding commercial harvest of freshwater turtles.


“Right now the biggest demand seems to be the common snapping turtle, although there’s also a lot of interest in musk turtles,” said Mike Harris, the non-game conservation section chief for Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.

Turtle collecting, and commercial turtle farming, are believed to be increasing in Georgia, with many species collected for export to Asia and other areas.

“We do have farmers who grow turtles in ponds or maintain breeding populations and they sell hatchlings overseas,” Harris said. “But right now we don’t even have rules in place that will allow us to collect data on the numbers involved in the trade.”

In January, the state’s Board of Natural Resources will be asked to adopt rules that will require permits and recordkeeping to help track the number of turtles being shipped out of Georgia.

The rules, which include a $50 resident commercial turtle permit – and a $500 for non-resident fee – would not apply to people who just want to catch or collect turtles for personal use.

“If citizens want to catch up to 10 per day to eat or keep as pets, as long as it’s 10 or fewer in aggregate of all species, there is no permit required,” Harris said.

According to a draft of the new regulations, the prolific pond slider would be the least regulated, with a proposed annual limit of 1,000, while common snappers, various mud and musk turtles, and painted turtles would be limited to 300.

The most restrictive limit – 100 per year – is proposed for less common species, including the spiny softshell, Florida softshell and river cooter.

A complete copy of the proposal is available online at www.gofishgeorgia.com/conservation.


HUMAN RABIES: South Carolina authorities Friday announced confirmation of the state’s first case of human rabies in more than 50 years.

The victim, who is likely to die of the disease, is a middle-aged Sumter County woman who was bitten by a bat that entered her home several months ago.

“There are only about one to three cases of human rabies each year in this country,” said medical epidemiologist Eric Brenner of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Tragically, rabies almost always ends in death.”

According to Brenner, bites from infected bats are one of the most common forms of exposure to humans. Unfortunately, bat bites can be tiny and often go undetected.

Other animals that typically can be infected include raccoons, foxes, skunks and other wild animals.


EAGLE STUDIES: Wildlife authorities are closely observing the bald eagle population along Thurmond Lake, where dozens of the big birds have died in recent years of a neurotoxin linked to algae that grows on the invasive aquatic weed hydrilla.

Ken Boyd, an Army Corps of Engineers biologist, said one dead eagle was recovered near Cherokee Boat Ramp the day before Thanksgiving, but good numbers of live eagles are also being seen at the lake.

Coots, the small waterfowl that feed on hydrilla, are often infected with the condition known as avian vacuolar myelinopathy, or AVM. Eagles that feed on coots also develop the disorder, which causes fatal brain lesions.

This year, thousands of coots are already wintering at the lake and feeding heavily on hydrilla.

“Unfortunately, with the low lake levels more hydrilla is exposed and available,” Boyd said, adding that a number of sick coots already have been recovered.


MARINA CLOSURE: In a short news release issued last week, the Corps of Engineers formally announced the closure of Little River Marina and Family Resort at Thurmond Lake, effective at midnight Dec. 27.

“All marina operations and facilities will close at that time,” the announcement said.

“The marina lease will be advertised by competitive means in an effort to award a lease and provide a public marina facility as soon as possible before the spring-summer 2012 recreation season.”

The 129-acre site, with docks, boat storage, cabins and other amenities, has been operated by Pam Bugg and her family since 1986. It is one of six commercial marinas at the lake authorized by the corps when the project was designed in the 1940s.

The corps opted not to renew the operator’s lease and has asked that all personal property and stored items be removed.

The corps plans to issue a notice of availability in January to begin the process of finding a new entity to operate a marina on the site.



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Saturday’s results at the Futurity