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Saving Turtles From The Wrong Side Of The Tracks

Michael Musnick is a citizen scientist who studies wood turtles in the Great Swamp — a stretch of wetland 60 miles north of New York City. He found turtles dying in the railroad tracks and proposed a solution to the Metropolitan Transportation

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Transcript

IRA FLATOW, host:

Now it's time for Flora's Video Pick of the Week. Flora Lichtman is here, our video producer. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: You have a very interesting - as always, a unique video.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: Yes. This week, it's a really moving tale, and that's a pun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: It's about turtles in upstate New York that are caught on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

FLATOW: Wrong side of the tracks. What happens to them on the wrong side of the track?

LICHTMAN: Well, what turns out when your legs are three inches long, being inside railroad tracks is basically like being in a prison. You can't get out.

FLATOW: Oh, you mean between the ties there between the tracks?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, exactly. And there's this guy in upstate New York who - Michael Musnick - who's a total turtle enthusiast. He loves them. He got a grant. He's a citizen - sort of citizen scientist…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: …but he got a grant to study these turtles in this area of wetland called the Great Swamp. And he was - and he's putting radio transmitters on turtles and he found a number of dead turtles that had been caught in the railroad tracks. And it's not that they had gotten run over, it's actually that when they get into the tracks, they overheat because they can't get out.

FLATOW: They can't climb back over the track.

LICHTMAN: Right. It's just too high.

FLATOW: And so what did he do?

LICHTMAN: So he had a solution, and that is tiny turtle bridges. And he -that's right.

FLATOW: Turtle bridges.

LICHTMAN: Turtle bridges. So, actually, it's…

FLATOW: And so you went out and video - you videotaped his turtle bridges and the turtles?

LICHTMAN: Yes, we saw - we got a grand tour of the turtle bridges, which are just mostly, sort of, mounds of gravel in the railroad.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: But the amazing accomplishment here is that he convinced New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to do these bridges on this stretch of track. So now, if you travel, you know, on the Harlem Line in Dutchess County, there are these, sort of, gravel mounds that allow the turtles to escape.

FLATOW: And now you know why they're there.

LICHTMAN: And now you know why they're there.

FLATOW: And so you went out and we have videos on our - it's our SCIENCE FRIDAY Video Pick of the Week. You could see these turtle bridges and this cute little - aren't they cute little turtles?

LICHTMAN: They're very cute.

FLATOW: They're cute turtles. Some of the babies are very cute. And they're able to climb back there - they go up the ramp over the track and then to safety.

LICHTMAN: Yes. You can see it on our Web site in action, turtles escaping their death…

FLATOW: Wow.

LICHTMAN: …with these tiny bridges.

FLATOW: Wow. And the - he got the cooperation of the transportation folks. And how many bridges are there? A lot of bridges spaced up and down the tracks?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. It's, like, every 50 feet or 50 yards, there are bridges.

FLATOW: Wow.

LICHTMAN: But, you know, I think it's one of these little local stories that shows that, you know, one person can actually, sort of, make a difference in some turtles' lives, right?

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. We call that heartwarming in the business.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. It's the feel-good story of the year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That's Flora's SCIENCE FRIDAY Video Pick of the Week. How one person is able to save those turtles from destruction, not by the train but from being out there caught and drying up and dying between the railroad tracks.

LICHTMAN: Yes. You should check them out. They're very cute.

FLATOW: Go check them out on our site sciencefriday.com, our Video Pick of the Week up there in the left side, all kinds of videos up there for you to watch. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

FLATOW: That's about all the time we have for today. I'm Ira Flatow in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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