You might be asking yourself, what is a western pond turtle? It’s a question I would have asked myself for the majority of my life. I learned about western pond turtles, one of only two turtle species native to Washington, in 2015. I was lucky enough to help take care of several turtles while volunteering and instantly fell in love. It was impossible not to while scrubbing their shells, or seeing how excited they got every time we fed them. Unfortunately, I soon learned that the turtles are endangered.

Western pond turtles were locally common in the early 20th century. However they began experiencing massive declines and at their lowest point in the 1990s, there were only 150 turtles left in the state. After population recovery efforts were put in place by Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and other organizations, the number of turtles increased to 1,200. While this increase is amazing, the species is still considered endangered. 

Turtles are important as they are indicators of the health of their habitat. By studying turtles, it is possible to learn what toxins are present in an area. Pesticides introduce chemical contaminants into our local waters. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Bioscience, due to their long lives and omnivore generalist diets, turtles accumulate pollutants through eating contaminated food that grows within polluted waters. Sadly even low concentrations of pollutants are enough to damage turtles’ immune systems and reproduction. Water runoff from our gardens and lawns is one of the ways that pollutants are introduced to watersheds. 

Luckily, we can make a difference. Below is a list of eco-friendly products that can be used to control unwanted pests and weeds without harming turtles. 

• Neem oil is a natural insecticide and can be used to control aphids, mites, fungi, and more. More information can be found here: www.thespruce.com/using-neem-oil-as-an-organic-insecticide-2132579 

• Diatomaceous earth is also a natural insecticide. It can be used to control fleas, beetles, aphids and slugs. More information can be found here: www.almanac.com/what-diatomaceous-earth 

• One option for weeds is to spray them with white vinegar to dry them out. 

• Boiling water can also be used to kill weeds, and can be extremely useful on sidewalks or driveway cracks. 

• Hand pulling weeds, while not everyone’s favorite thing to do, is cheap and effective. There are tools available that make this job easier. It can also be a fun way to involve kids in the garden. 

Neem oil and diatomaceous earth can both be purchased at Molbaks and Flower World. The Tilth Alliance Garden Hotline is also a great local resource to learn more about eco-gardening practices: www.tilthalliance.org/learn/hotline/index_html

By taking steps at home to be more aware of what we use in our gardens, it will reduce our impact. It is possible for all of us to make a difference and help the western pond turtle stay healthy for generations to come.

Nicole Donaldson grew up in Woodinville and is currently a graduate student at Miami University, earning her master's in biology.

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