Kane: Diving for Turtles

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(Host) Lately, commentator Adam Kane, Co-Director of the Lake Champlain
Maritime Museum, has been reflecting on things lost and found – in Lake

(Kane) The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s dive team
has a saying: the lake does not give up her secrets easily. Or to
paraphrase a more popular expression, sometimes despite our best efforts
working in her cold, dark waters, what happens in Lake Champlain stays
in Lake Champlain.

For six years we’ve been working with a team
studying the behavior of rare spiny soft shell turtles in Lake
Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay. Due to human disturbance, loss of habitat,
and nest predation, this unique turtle is threatened in Vermont and
Canada. For nearly a decade, a handful of turtles have been tagged with
transmitters and followed to learn how best to protect them.

the fall, these turtles burrow under the lake bottom to hibernate. Using
the transmitters, each turtle’s location is determined within a few
feet. A diver then descends to the quiet and featureless lake bottom to
search for the turtle’s hiding place. When the diver finds a likely
lump, they carefully dig up the large, often unhappily thrashing turtle.
In an instant the peaceful dive becomes a heart pounding wildlife
wrestling match. Fortunately the turtle’s disturbance is swift; a few
measurements and a fresh transmitter, and it gets released back into the
lake for its winter sleep.

As usual, while diving this fall I
took dutiful notes in my logbook, which is a Rite in the Rain number 373
(yes, I’m that particular about the brand and model). In these
ever-present logbooks I record any secrets the lake cares to yield
during dive projects, in this case each turtle’s location, dive times,
and distinctive turtle nature. There’s the reclusive North Hero turtle
who winters well south of the other turtles; year after year she shows
particular irascibility at being dug up. Or the "River Turtle", who in
the past hibernated in the Missisquoi River close to the hustle and
bustle of downtown Swanton, but chose this year to sleep instead in
Missisquoi Bay with her compatriots.

Though we’ve always
eventually located all the tagged turtles, this fall went particularly
quickly: we successfully located ten turtles in only two days. As the
diving came to a close, I was buoyed by how quickly the lake had given
up her secrets. For once, locating something in Lake Champlain had
seemed relatively easy.

But the lake always strongly encourages humility.

we got to shore my precious logbook was nowhere to be found. It had
been inside my clipboard along with my camera and car keys. It must have
fallen overboard. Frantic searching was followed by a desperate dive,
to no avail.

Having spent a career looking for objects lost
underwater, I knew the log was gone. And as the weak November sun set on
Missisquoi Bay, I thought of my log sitting on the dark lake bottom,
now an object of curiosity to its former subjects.

The lake does not give up her secrets easily after all – and sometimes she takes them back.

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