Turtle Observers

slider turtles and western ponds photo by sami kreling
Can you spot the western pond turtle on this log? Hint: It's the only one of its kind. All the others are non-native red-eared slider turtles. See the answer at the bottom of this page.

Volunteer Turtle Observers 

The western pond turtle, Actinemys marmorata, is a federally listed vulnerable species. These are the only fresh water turtles native to California, and they can be found around Phoenix, Lagunitas, and Alpine Lakes in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.

MMWD has enlisted the help of volunteers to protect this vulnerable animal by monitoring habitat conditions, recording their behavior, and educating the public during the spring when they are most vulnerable. Volunteers have collected valuable data on native and non-native turtles that is helping to direct the management of these species.

Turtle Observer Training for the 2020 season will be held on April 29, 2020.
Did you know?
  • The western pond turtle has a life span of over 40 years.
  • During the winter, the turtles live in underground burrows in upland habitats.
  • In late spring, the females find a nesting site away from the water and lay eggs in a shallow hole that they cover with dirt. Nests and migrating turtles are highly susceptible to predators, unsuspecting hikers, and bicyclists.

"Ruffles the Turtle" by Turtle Observer Kathy Tama

Ruffles the Turtle by Kathy Tama 2014

Turtle Observer Program Results

How did we do in 2019?

We really appreciate all of the hard work our volunteers put in to monitoring the turtles and educating the public this season. Without their efforts none of this valuable data could be collected. During the 2019 season there were 28 new volunteers trained, 17 who participated in observations. Those 17 docents conducted 54 surveys over a total of 33 days.

Population Estimates

  • 23 western pond turtles (27 last year)
  • 169 non native turtles (131 last year)
  • Largest population of western pond turtle at Alpine Lake (8)
  • Smallest population of western pond turtle at Bon Tempe Lake (2)
Thank you to this year's volunteers: Kathy Tama, Michael O’Callahan, Andre Giraldi, Frederic Leist, Marianna Riser, Kathleen Gundy, Bill Maly, Lamorna Swigart, Phoebe Swigart, Dan Bertoni, Deanna Monaco, Jeanpaul Ovellette, Mitch Moeller, Jack Dirk, Lorri Gong, Rachel Ross, and Ailsa Harju.  

Areas Monitored

Turtle observations were recorded from early February through the first week of June.

  • The dam and shoreline of Lake Lagunitas
  • The shoreline of Alpine Lake along Bullfrog Trail
  • Alpine Lake below Bon Tempe Dam
  • The shoreline of Phoenix Lake on Phoenix Lake Trail and Shafter Grade Road

Summary Report

For more details about the 2019 turtle program results, please see Turtle Observer Program Report 2019.

Addition Resources

A great article from the Point Reyes Light that delves into the plight of the turtle, and discusses conservation strategies.

Answer to question at top of page: The western pond turtle is the third one from the left in the top photo.

Remember: Please don't release your pet turtle in the wild!
Eric Turtle