A turtle's best friend may just be Dell Cullum, the founder of Wildlife Rescue of East Hampton. Cullum and several volunteers recently rescued turtles, fish and even a bullfrog from Town Pond in East Hampton in an effort to remove the wildlife before the completion of a scheduled dredging.
Following completion of the first phase of the pond dredging project, and after numerous turtle sightings, East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen halted the project giving Cullum and gang an opportunity to rescue and relocate the turtles and other wildlife. In total, ten turtles have been rescued, along with several dozen goldfish carp, two beautiful koi and a large bullfrog.
This was no simple undertaking since much of the water had already been removed, combined with the weather and difficulty in just following the muddy trails left behind by the turtles, these saviors utilized a drone, thermal imaging camera and extended the week long moratorium to rescue as many of the red-eared sliders as possible. Note: Red-ear sliders turtles are all former household pets who were released into the pond, much like goldfish. Four of the rescued turtles were given to both The South Fork Natural History Museum
and Nature Center in Bridgehampton, while the other six found new homes with area residents who have ponds on their property.
While this effort was not planned before the dredging began, and would have and will be easier in warmer weather when the turtles and others would be swimming and far more visible, Cullum stated, "No time would have been the perfect time since wildlife rely on their habitat year-round for a variety of reasons. For example, had the dredging begun in the spring, it would have disrupted the breeding season. Summer would have the least impact on the wildlife but not so for local businesses who are still staggering from the Coronavirus pandemic."
Continuing, Cullum said, "Although there is never an exception when it comes to risking the lives of any living creature, there was an opportunity to keep the project moving along, while at the same time keeping a watchful eye out for the wildlife."
Cullum speaks very highly of the volunteers that have been helping in this rescue effort. "This is a team effort, and my team is the best. Along with the cooperation of both the East Hampton Village board and Bistrian's dredging crew, we've managed to do just that."
Wildlife Rescue of East Hampton Founder Dell Cullum with debris collected during the rescue efforts. (Courtesy Photo)
Cullum and volunteers were specifically there to rescue turtles that would awaken from an early semi-hibernation due to the noise and vibrations of the excavator digging away at the sediment being removed. "We just wait for them to come out of the mud, because looking for them under the mud would be nearly impossible. Similar to finding small needles in a very big haystack."
While Cullum and crew watch and wait patiently, they make the best of their time by removing the glass, garbage and debris that is much easier to find and remove, and unfortunately is everywhere. Cullum revealed he has removed dozens of glass bottles, a couple hub caps, lots of paper and plastic trash and about a dozen hockey pucks. He added, "Some folks seem to think there is some hidden mystery waiting to be unearthed in the pond's muck. I hate to disappoint those folks so I often joke and say that so far I've found three firearms, Capt. Kidd's Treasure and Jimmy Hoffa." Along with the turtles and others, two cell phones, two horseshoe crabs (deceased) and half a dozen dead eels were discovered.
As dredging continues, Cullum believes the disruption due to vibrations and noise will have more turtles surfacing to be rescued. Along with warmer temperatures as the winter transitions into spring, the conditions couldn't be more in the rescuer's favor. Two days after the digging resumed, the tenth turtle broke the muddy surface and started walking east (away from the machine). "Once they start walking they are much easier to see. Then we can just scoop them up with a long net."
Cullum confirmed, "My awesome volunteers and I plan to be there until this project is completed, which may run into May. Whatever time it takes, we're in it until the end." Cullum hopes to rescue more native species that can ultimately be released back into the pond once the project is completed. He's quite certain he will find snapping turtles as the digging continues, and maybe even a painted turtle.
All creatures have angels unaware and certainly pets are not garbage. While Cullum and volunteers are actively ensuring the safety and survival of what lives and resides in our waters, perhaps we could all make an effort to assist from the sidelines by properly disposing of garbage and safely relocating pets - a simple but powerful solution that could have us singing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Look at the turtle go, bro!"
Just wondering, did anyone adopt the bullfrog and name it Jeremiah?
For more information on the tremendous work undertaken by Cullum, go to www.wroeh.org.
Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.