Introduction to Turtle Cove
GPS Coordinates: 30.2771° N, 90.3974° W
At 9am Saturday, February 16, 2019 the temperature at the Turtle Cove Boatshed and Classroom/Office complex was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and cloudy.
The Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station is a field research and education/outreach facility and program of Southeastern Louisiana University. Turtle Cove consists of facilities located on two sites at Galva Canal in Manchac (Akers, LA) and on Pass Manchac in the Lake Pontchartrain estuarine ecosystem’s Manchac Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Turtle Cove helps support a variety of interdisciplinary research and education programs at Southeastern University—and other universities throughout the region. Field trips for university students as well as K-12 and other community groups are also offered year-round. Turtle Cove’s extensive education and outreach programs are widely renowned across the region.
History of Turtle Cove
Turtle Cove itself is a historic structure located in the wetlands on Pass Manchac, a natural pass that connects Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas in southeastern Louisiana. The building was built in 1908 and is home to a variety of ecological and environmental research and educational programs. The main guesthouse (i.e., “Turtle Cove”) on Pass Manchac was constructed by Mr. Edward Schlieder, a businessman, logger, and outdoorsman from New Orleans. The estate was donated after his death to the State of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife Ind Fisheries (LDWF) from whom Southeastern now leases the land and facilities.
The mission of the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station (Turtle Cove ERS) is to facilitate and support a better understanding of Southeast Louisiana’s coastal wetland environments through research, education, and public outreach activities and programs for Southeastern’s students, faculty and staff as well as the greater University community. 
Field trips are available year-round (dependent on good weather), on certain days of the week depending on time of school year and availability of staff, and they feature lectures, discussions, and hands-on exploration of the Manchac wetlands, all facilitated by professional scientists. 
Self-guided Boardwalk Tour
The boardwalk now has a Self-Guided Boardwalk Tour with 55 signs along the ⅔-mile boardwalk, showing pictures and describing various species of mammals, reptiles/amphibians, vegetation, birds and fish, along with a few signs discussing the cultural history of the area. 
Topics for Discussion
A visit to Turtle Cove starts with a boat ride… how fun! The abundant wildlife is apparent from the start. As you leave the dock area, through residences built on the canal, it is apparent that you are now in southeast Louisiana bayou country. Boat docks, crab traps, fishing nets and the overall sense that you are amidst people that make their living from the water. Below are 4 observations that stood out to me during our visit:
- Christmas Tree Recycling Program
- Derelict Crab Trap Removal
- The Snakes of Turtle Cove
1. Christmas Tree Recycling Program
Thread = Connecting the dots – interconnectedness
The Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station provides for the annual recycling of the region’s Christmas Trees to help the coastal environment. They partner with the City of Hammond, City of Ponchatoula, Middendorf’s Restaurant, Lowe’s and Home Depot (for unsold trees), and since 2015 Southeastern’s Sustainability Center (Southeastern Louisiana University).
As a rule across the metro areas, all trees need to be real, unflocked Christmas trees that are bare of any sort of stands, decoration such as lights, tinsel or ornaments.
The trees are placed in a wooden cribbing that act like a fence to slow down waves and trap sediment. As the trees break down and settle, the land starts to reform. 
Many cities throughout the country have Christmas tree recycling programs. Few have an immediate impact like the programs in southeast Louisiana.
Thousands of recycled Christmas trees have been placed in bayous along Louisiana’s coast to help restore the coastline. Since 1991, 800,000 Christmas trees have been donated through various Parish recycling programs.
2. Derelict Crab Trap Removal
Thread = Environmental maintenance
Derelict crab traps are any crab traps that have become discarded, lost, or abandoned in the marine environment. In Louisiana, they are a widespread form of marine debris. Derelict traps are a hazard to coastal navigation, a source of habitat degradation, and a nuisance. They disrupt fishing by becoming tangled in shrimpers’ nets, and can damage boat propellers, particularly when they are cut from their float line.
A major effect of derelict crab traps is “ghost fishing” or continued capture of crabs and fish without fishers maintaining or baiting the traps. Ghost fishing can be a long-term problem because crab traps take years to degrade. Fish and crabs that are caught in the derelict traps die and continue to “re-bait” the traps, attracting more animals. Millions of dollars in crab harvest are likely lost to abandoned traps every year. Blue crab mortality might be as high as 25 crabs per trap per year left in the environment. 
Interesting factoid: The blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is a mainstay of local cuisine and an important commercial fishery in Louisiana. According to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, an average of 45 million pounds of blue crab are harvested in Louisiana.
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s mission is to drive environmental sustainability and stewardship through scientific research, education, and advocacy. 
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a 10,000 square mile watershed encompassing 16 Louisiana parishes, and includes the Turtle Cove area. The land use of the region is both rural and urban and is the most densely populated region in Louisiana, including metro New Orleans and the state capital, Baton Rouge.
Thread = Resource Partitioning
“A lichen is when an algae takes a liken’ to a fungi”
Dr. Bob Thomas
Lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga. The dominant partner is the fungus, which gives the lichen the majority of its characteristics, from its thallus shape to its fruiting bodies. 
The algae are photosynthetic, produces sugar and other carbohydrates which both the fungus and the algae itself use for nutrition. The fungus, on the other hand protects the fungus within its tissue against the sun so that the algae does not dry out. There are close to 14,000 species of lichens in the world; very diverse in size, form and color.
Lichens are geographically distributed all over the world. They are found from the poles to the tropics, from the intertidal zones to the peaks of mountains, and on every kind of surface e.g. soil, rocks, tree bark and even on the backs of some living insects!
There are three main types of lichens and below are examples from Turtle Cove:
- Fruticose: Lichen thallus is stalked, pendent, or shrubby
- Foliose: Lichen thallus is flat and “leafy”
- Crustose: Lichen thallus is generally in contact with the substratum
Fruticose lichen – A fruticose lichen is a form of lichen fungi that is characterized by a coral-like shrubby or bushy growth structure (hairy). This lichen is composed of a complex vegetation structure, and characterized by an ascending, bushy or pendulous appearance. 
Crustose lichens form a crust that strongly adheres to the substrate (soil, rock, tree bark, etc.), making separation from the substrate impossible without destruction. The surface of crustose lichens is characterized by branching cracks that periodically close in response to climatic variations such as alternate wetting and drying regimes. 
4. The Snakes of Turtle Cove
Thread = Adaptive Strategies
The abundance of snakes was amazing, and a little scary… I had the unfortunate experience to be bitten by a Puff Adder snake (Bitis arietans arietans), many years ago in South Africa. I did not go swimming at Turtle Cove! Below are two of the snake species we encountered at Turtle Cove.
Adult Length: 76-122 cm
The Diamondback Watersnake inhabits aquatic environments throughout most of Louisiana. It can be found in swamps, marshes, ponds, rivers, and any other water system.
Diamondback Watersnakes eat mostly fish, but have also been known to eat frogs, crawfish, salamanders, and other prey items.
Gulf Saltmarsh Snake
Adult Length: 38-76 cm
The Gulf Saltmarsh Snake inhabits salt marshes and brackish marshes along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne, and Lake Maurepas.
The Gulf Saltmarsh Snake is yellow, tan, or brown in coloration with 2 dark stripes along the sides and one dark stripe at the central portion of the dorsum and feeds mostly on small fish.
Nature Journal – Flower Press Violet Wood Sorrel (Oxalis violacea)
The definition of a weed is “a plant that is growing out of place”. Does that mean that all weeds are weeds? Absolutely not. Look at the pretty purple flowers of this Wood Sorrel ‘weed’.
Wood Sorrel has adapted to grow in forest shade. Its rootstock is fragile, and its leaves are very thin, only a few cells thick. It is sensitive to drying out, so it protects itself by folding its leaflets downwards against each other, reducing the amount of surface area that is subject to evaporation. The plant pulls its leaves tightly together at night and also during periods of fierce sunshine, heavy rain and when it is touched.
Wood sorrel rushes to bloom early in the spring while other vegetation is still growing and there is plenty light around, and it is easy for nectar-hunting plants to find the plant’s large flowers. These summer flowers are self-pollinating, but the seeds usually develop well.
The sourly tart taste of wood sorrel’s leaves is produced by the oxalic acid they contain, which protects the plant from e.g. insect grubs and snails. Large amounts are poisonous for humans but snacking on a few leaves on a forest hike won’t do any harm. 
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 illustrated the fragility of the coast in Southeast Louisiana and underscored the importance of rebuilding sustainably in the face of increasing flood risks and other environmental hazards. This observation was abundantly clear after visits to Bayou Sauvage and Turtle Cove. Such a perspective has increased demand for companies providing services and products that will allow sustainable growth for our region.
Sustainable Industries feature companies that manage and solve environmental issues and challenges. Among the types of companies included in this cluster are those that handle water/waste, focus on building efficiency and remodeling, and are involved in environmental administration. Others targeted for this cluster include organizations that address solar energy, coastal restoration, planting trees and disaster recovery.
Throughout my career I’ve embraced a methodology utilized by startups and entrepreneurs… the Lean Startup theory. Lean startup is a methodology for developing business models and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable. This is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning. By embracing the Vision, Strategy and Product, planning becomes crucial. Vision is the foundation of any venture, the reason for the existence, the ultimate goal. The vision rarely changes. Strategy is how you achieve that vision. Strategy includes architecting the model, envisioning a road map, and responding to the market conditions and competitors. Occasionally, the strategy may need to change, or “pivot”. The Product is the end result produced by your vision and strategy. This concept goes hand-in-hand with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.
In pursuit of my ‘Environmental Education’ goals, I will be focusing my energies on environmental companies and sustainable industries… non-profits and for-profit companies, assisting to develop transparent and scalable revenue models as well as living up to their Mission Statements.
About the Author
Eugene Brill does not hold a PhD in Environmental Science, Botany or another scientific field. He earned an MBA in business/marketing and is a mentor to startup entrepreneurs… but he’s a dedicated Wannabe Naturalist, an avid gardener and an amateur nature photographer. He does not ‘speak’ in taxonomic groupings, species and genera; but can communicate clearly with ‘Joe Public’ in language everyone understands. Eugene is constantly improving his ability to translate science into plain English. He loves to share knowledge, believe that Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is real, agrees that ‘forest bathing’ (fully clothed, off course… ?) makes us happier, healthier and more creative, and he subscribes to the teachings of Edward O. Wilson and the Biophilia Hypothesis.