In 2010, an historic event happened in Michigan, and goes down, to this day, as one of the worst inland oil spills and tragedies in the world. The impact on the area was catastrophic, and resulted in years of cleanup, lawsuits, and damage control.

But that was more than a decade ago, and things have slowly been returning to normal along the river, including one resident who was relocated soon after the spill - turtles.

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When the Enbridge Oil Spill happened in 2010, it was an environment killer. It displace residents - both human, and non-human - all along the shores of the Kalamazoo River just east of Battle Creek.

All told, 35 miles of the river was affected, 4.5 million gallons of heavy crude oil spilled from a broken pipe, and hundreds of fish and animals were killed. One creature saved by environmentalists, though, was the Northern Map Turtle.

The Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved more than 700 of the regional turtles to similar habitats down river, similar to where they were used to living. It allowed the turtles to thrive, and survive away from the spill.

But the instinct to return home was too strong.

Stephen Hamilton is an aquatic ecosystem ecologist and biogeochemist with Michigan State University's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in South Gull Lake, near Kalamazoo.

"The oil spill was a tragedy. But scientifically, it was an incredible opportunity to learn exactly how far these turtles will go. We had no idea how far freshwater turtles could travel."

How far did the Turtles Travel?

Scientists expected that the turtles might migrate back upstream some, closer to their home. But the distance seemed staggering for them to make it all the way back to where their previous generations originally came from.

Researcher Joshua Otten, from the University of Toledo, studied the turtles' movements, and was astonished at what he found.

"They will usually move a few miles form their home base - we knew that. We didn't have data to support movement at larger distances. We had moved them 30-40 miles away from where they had been captured, and we found them at nearly the same log they had been captured at originally, 10 years prior.|

It took a decade, but these little 10-inch turtles managed to migrate between 30 and 45 miles up stream to their original homes on the river.

How did they Know Where to Go?

James Harding is a longtime turtle researcher at Michigan State University. He, too, agreed with other experts that they expected the turtles to migrate some, but not that far.

"I suspect that odor plays a part in it, but who knows? They could be reading the stars as a guide. Turtles have this ability that lets them find their way back home."

I mean... they are called "Map Turtles," right?

So, to our brothers in a half-shell, welcome back to west Michigan waterways.

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