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Unlikely Partners: Bees and Turtles

Unlikely Partners: Bees and Turtles
An injured sea turtle has had honey from Fennessey Ranch applied to a wound to promote healing.

Honey bees and sea turtles may seem like strange bedfellows, but through two of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve's (NERR) stewardship programs – Fennessey Ranch and the Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) – these two species are connected through a unique collaboration.

Two apiarists tend to the hives at Fennessey Ranch. Photo by Dean Johnstone.

Fennessey Ranch, located just outside of Refugio, Texas, is a rich network of meadows, brush, prairie, freshwater wetlands, natural lakes, and riparian woodlands. In 2006, The University of Texas at Austin through its Mission-Aransas NERR purchased a conservation easement on the privately owned ranch. The 3,261-acre wildlife oasis is host to numerous types of birds, plants, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and mammals. The Ranch is designed to be an environmentally friendly business that profits from traditional livestock ranching, as well as wildlife tours, hunting leases and photography trips. The conservation easement restricts development from occurring and ensures that the valuable habitats of Fennessey Ranch will continue to support wildlife well into the future.

For the past 15 years, the Ranch has supported a thriving population of honey bees and beehives. Two apiarists (beekeepers) tend to the hives. Currently, about 25 hives are maintained on the Ranch. 2020 was a record harvest year, producing 40 gallons of honey, compared to an average harvest year of 15 gallons. The Mission-Aransas NERR put the surplus honey to good use through the ARK's turtle rehabilitation program.

Honey from Fennessey Ranch being applied to an injured sea turtle.

The ARK rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured birds, sea turtles, terrestrial turtles, and tortoises found along the South Texas coast and returns them to their native habitat. For the past several years, the ARK has been using honey on injured turtles. Honey has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that help to promote wound healing. It also encourages healthy tissue granulation in wounds and helps to treat inflammation.

The partnership between the ARK and Fennessey Ranch began in late 2020 during a coffee break. Alicia Walker, ARK Program Coordinator and Katie Swanson, Stewardship Coordinator and Fennessey Ranch Manager, were catching up over coffee/tea (presumably with honey), when Alicia mentioned the use of honey on their injured turtles and the expense it incurred. Katie told her about the honey from the Ranch and asked if they could use some. The donated honey the ARK received from the Ranch saved them $634.

In 2020, the ARK rescued and/or received 130 live stranded sea turtles, many of them treated with honey from Fennessey Ranch, located 40 miles inland. Bees helping sea turtles…who would have guessed?

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Wednesday, 01 December 2021

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