Wilson Park hid an ocean of creatures
Article Launched: 10/28/2008 11:27:09 PM PDT
Muddy Sandie Freeman plucks a red-eared slider turtle from her net. Healthy turtles will be put up for adoption, but only to owners of ponds (Bruce Hazelton/Staff Photographer)
By 4 p.m. Tuesday, when mother-daughter animal rescue team Sandie Freeman and Corrina Michalak had invested 34 straight hours fishing around in the goop of Torrance's Wilson Park pond, the captured critter count stood at:
More than 400 fish.
One flightless duck.
Fifty red-eared slider turtles.
One massive leatherback sea turtle, which was at least 1-1/2 feet long and a foot wide.
All these came from one relatively modest-size city pond at the Crenshaw Boulevard park that's being drained, cleaned and renovated for the first time in at least two decades.
The city plans to add a concrete bottom to the pond to make it easier to clean. Other improvements are in the early planning stages.
"The (number of) fish I'm really surprised about," said Mike Wilson, park services manager. "You couldn't see them because of the murky water. They were thriving for sure."
And thriving a little too well for the popular but overburdened pond, which was never designed to serve as a habitat for Southern California fauna and flora.
A crew from City of Industry-based United Storm Water had begun draining the estimated 100,000 gallons of water from the pond at 7 a.m. Monday.
As the water level lowered, Freeman and Michalak waded in, braving up to two feet of silt and wielding large fishing nets as they scooped the local wildlife to safety.
"That's a lot of muck you step in," Michalak said. "At certain spots you can really smell it."
"Jimmy Hoffa was not here," she added. "We found balls, toys, little action figures, hockey pucks and fish."
Lots and lots of koi, sucker fish, carp and anything else folks had dumped in the 18-inch-deep water over the years.
The fish were taken to holding tanks in a warehouse owned by Marina del Rey-based Living Art Aquatic Design.
General Manager Rich Krist was taken aback at both the number and the relatively healthy condition of the undoubtedly stressed fish.
"There was an enormous amount of fish in here despite the conditions," he said. "They're resilient."
And so were Freeman and Michalak.
The pair specializes in rescuing skunks, so they are used to an odoriferous working environment.
Which was good, since as the water drained the turtles burrowed into the pungent mud in an effort to remain out of sight.
"Yeah, this is fun," said Freeman, caked in mud from head to toe. "We're saving lives."
But, she said, people shouldn't just dump animals there. The city intends to be extra vigilant once the pond is renovated to ensure the problem doesn't recur, Wilson said.
Incredibly, the massive leatherback remained hidden in the muck until
just before a weary Freeman and Michalak packed up for the day.
Like the others it will be scrubbed clean and medicated. Healthy turtles will be put up for adoption, although that's not going to include the leatherback, which is an endangered species.
Freeman and Michalak aren't done though.
They anticipated returning to Wilson Park at 5 a.m. today to pick up any stragglers as the pond draining and cleaning continues.
In addition, a wild duck that has mated with the captured domestic and is still hanging anxiously about must somehow be caught. The pair will be taken to a wildlife sanctuary.
"They're madly in love," Michalak said. "You can't separate them. They mate for life."
WANT TO HELP?
If you want to adopt a turtle, call 310-259-0734. Potential owners must have a backyard pond.
A volunteer, top, scrubs one of 50 turtles that were found at the bottom of the drained Wilson Park pond. (Bruce Hazelton/Staff Photographer)
Note: Reporter mistakenly called a large Softshell Turtle a Leatherback Sea Turtle. There were no endangered species within the pond.