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At McGough Nature Park, turtle lovers breathe easier after harvesting ban

Kayla Reed put 25 cents into the machine and soon began tossing turtle food nuggets into the pond.

She grabbed her big brother's hand and watched as the turtle show began.

Reptile snouts began popping above the water's surface. Freshwater turtles, including Florida cooters, soft shells and chicken turtles began nibbling on the snack.

Unbeknownst to the Reed siblings — Kayla, 5, and Tristan, 12 — their visit to George C. McGough Nature Park on Thursday was on the heels of a historic event.

A day earlier, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to outlaw the commercial harvesting of the state's freshwater turtles and eggs. Because of the demand for turtles in overseas markets, where the reptile is considered a delicacy, the regulation, considered the toughest in the United States, was officially put in place.

When visitors to McGough Nature Park, nicknamed "turtle park," heard about the decision to protect freshwater turtles, the reaction, as expected, was pro-turtle all the way.

"Who could hurt a turtle anyway?'' asked Gina Battle, 8.

"Maybe people who don't have any food go out and know turtles aren't fast enough to get away so they've been eating turtles to survive, I think,'' said Becky Cole, 6.

"I hope they put the men who kill turtles in jail forever,'' said Christine Parker, 6.

McGough Nature Park holds more than 100 turtles. It became a hot spot for the reptile more than a decade ago, said Barbara Stalbird, nature park specialist for the city of Largo.

It is home to several species that are native to Florida, but because of people dropping off unwanted turtles over the years, there's also a large number of non-natives.

"Most of those that were dropped off are red-eared sliders, the kind you used to see a lot in pet stores, and they easily have populated,'' Stalbird said.

Although red-eared sliders do procreate quickly, turtle lovers can breathe another sigh of relief.

There will be no need for government to step in to dictate a position on population control at the facility. At McGough Nature Park, nature can run its course.

"As soon as turtle egg season begins, which starts in late spring, we see a mass arrival of crows who come for the eggs," Stalbird said. "And we welcome them, actually.

"They help to naturally keep turtle population in check.''

George C. McGough Nature Park

Where: 11901 146th St. N

Hours: 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. daily

Featured residents: The turtle pond is in the southeast corner of the park, near the welcome center.

At McGough Nature Park, turtle lovers breathe easier after harvesting ban 06/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 9:04pm]
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