Hook, line, and sinker: Senior project develops into groundbreaking aquatic wildlife conservation method


Parker Gerdes didn’t realize how groundbreaking his senior project would be. At the suggestion of professor Vanessa Lane, Gerdes and Dalton Ridgdill are using metal detectors to help turtles who may have ingested hooks.

With the help of volunteers, Gerdes and Ridgdill have caught over 130 turtles by using metal detectors to find any harmful hooks that may be in the animals. Gerdes said, “This is a new method they are testing and that it will hopefully be used to aid other wildlife as well.”

The process of setting up traps, baiting the turtles, tagging and transporting hook ingested turtles spans over the course of a few days. Gerdes and Ridgdill have caught most of the turtles they have researched at the Paradise Public Fishing Area and Lake Baldwin.

Gerdes also said that he and Ridgdill received help from volunteers, most of whom are wildlife students.

Gerdes then explained the entire process. First, the students and volunteers set up five to eight traps in the lake. While setting the traps, they have to make sure there is enough water and oxygen for the turtles.

Then, the traps are baited with sardines to lure the turtles in. The group then waits until the next day to check if any of the traps contain turtles.

If any fish are accidentally caught in the traps, they are scanned and immediately released. Each of the caught turtles is then scanned with a metal detector that beeps if any hooks are inside them.

So far, they have found and scanned two hook ingested turtles. Gerdes recalled that the detector beeped the most around one turtle’s neck and the other turtle’s stomach.

Dr. Vanessa Lane demonstrating this new research during Family Weekend. Photo courtesy of the ABAC School of Agriculture and Natural Resource Facebook Page.

The turtles were then transported to Quailwood Animal Hospital here in Tifton, where the X-rays came back and showed both turtles were positive and had swallowed hooks in the same locations that the metal detectors beeped. The turtles were treated and returned to the lake.

The main species of turtles caught are common sliders, but Gerdes said: “They have caught many other types including loggerhead musk turtles, Eastern mud turtles, and a few soft shells.”

They usually catch 15-20 turtles in one day. Gerdes and Ridgdill record the turtles and take down notes about each turtle. The group has even re-caught one turtle.

The metal detector method will be used in North Georgia on Eastern Hellbender, which is an endangered species of salamander. The research done on the Eastern Hellbender will look further into the effects hook ingestion have on the animals.

He hopes that this method can be used on sea turtles someday. Gerdes said, “He never expected the project to have so much of an impact.” Lane said, “The method was groundbreaking and hasn’t been used before.”

Gerdes and Ridgdill are both seniors who are majoring in conservation law enforcement. Gerdes hopes to become a game warden when he graduates. He said that he and Ridgdill “appreciate all the help from volunteers and look forward to helping more wildlife in the future.”

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