Turtle Time

Post-retirement, Ray Clarke has shifted his research from fish to turtles

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

Ray Clarke

“There you are, you little bugger!” 

Ray Clarke tries to avoid anthropomorphizing. But when he locates one of 16 terrestrial turtles after trudging solo for hours in the forests of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, he can’t help but exclaim—as if to a child playing hide-and-seek—before weighing the creature and calculating its GPS coordinates.

Clarke retired in May after 40 years of teaching biology at Sarah Lawrence and studying tiny reef fish called blennies. Now the home range patterns of box turtles occupy much of his time. He enjoys working closer to home (much of his earlier research took place in Belize), and appreciates that his current project has immediate environmental implications. 

Clarke is working with the National Park Service to map the turtles’ movements, measuring their coordinates weekly. He hopes that comparing those patterns to the thick web of power lines that threads across the state will reveal whether those lines affect where the turtles lay eggs. Ultimately, Clarke hopes to learn more about how Terrapene carolina use space, and whether human activity around the power lines harms their mortality rates. 

Clarke says a recent hike in California helped him realize what a change retirement would bring to his life, despite the joy he’s taking in his current work.

“I found an interesting specimen, and I immediately told my wife that I couldn’t wait to take it back and show my students. Then I realized, ‘Wait, I’m not going to have any more students.’ That proved how much teaching had gotten into my bones.” But SLC students will always have a place in his heart—right next to the turtles.