Turtles removed from campus for pond cleaning

Claire Ricke

It’s summer vacation for more than just UT’s students — the inhabitants of the turtle pond will be taking a trip for the month of June while the pond is cleaned.

David Hillis, an integrative biology professor involved in the cleanup, said approximately 140 turtles were removed from the pond on Monday morning. Hillis said he expects to find more turtles in the pond once it is drained. Out of the three ponds on campus, the cleaning crew will clean and drain the largest pond. 

Hillis said the dirty pond does not pose a health risk to the turtles, but does create an annoyance for them as algae begins to grow on their shells. 

“Right now there has been a lot of accumulation of organic debris, sediment and algal growth,” Hillis said. “Eventually it gets to be too crowded for them so they have a hard time getting enough sunlight.”

The ponds, located north of the UT Tower, were constructed in the 1930s. In 1999, former President Larry Faulkner dedicated the pond and surrounding garden to the victims of the 1966 Tower shooting. According to the University, the pond was last cleaned in 2002.

Volunteers including students, faculty and staff from the University’s Texas Natural History Collections met to transport the turtles to the Brackenridge Field Lab. Capturing them one-by-one, volunteers loaded the turtles into wading pools.  

Kelsey Hornung, Texas Natural History Collections research associate and volunteer, said the turtles will be monitored to see how many species they have now and which species of turtles are repopulating and why. 

“We preserve specimens to learn about them in the future — their eating habits, location, why they sometimes leave areas,” Hornung said.

Hornung said approximately only 40 of the turtles will be returned to the pond to allow for repopulating. The other turtles will remain at the Brackenridge Field Lab.

Wading through the murky pond, volunteers began to pull out the large pieces of algae that were emitting a smell. Kevin Pan, biology major and volunteer, said his interest in marine biology and aquatics are what drew him to the cleanup crew.

“The turtles are doing fine, but the pond is starting to smell when you walk by so it is definitely in need of a cleanup,” Pan said. 

Hillis said the pond plays an educational role for students on campus. 

“Everyone enjoys the turtle pond, both for educational reasons and people sitting around studying, looking at the turtles and watching them,” Hillis said. “It is a good chance to see a little bit of nature right here on campus.”

This story has been updated since its original publication.