(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — People with unwanted aquatic pets can bring them to a “pet amnesty” event on Saturday, May 21, in Erie.

They can bring their pet turtles, pet fish, even their unwanted aquarium plants to the event to get rid of them in a responsible, ethical way. The amnesty event will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Erie Humane Society (2407 Zimmerly Road in Erie).

Pennsylvania Sea Grant, an organization aimed at promoting the ecological and economic sustainability of Pennsylvania’s coast and waterways, is leading the event.

“The idea came about when we were doing project work on Presque Isle State Park on red-eared slider turtles,” said Sara Stahlman, a biologist and Pennsylvania Sea Grant extension leader. “They’re popular pet turtles. They get up to 12 inches in diameter and live for over 30 years. People don’t understand the commitment, and they think the best option is to release them into the environment.”

It’s not the best option, Stahlman warned. The turtles eventually are found, caught, and then euthanized (because the animals are found in the wild, they cannot legally be kept, so they must be euthanized, she said). And there are native animals in our local environment who now have to compete with exotic animals for local resources and nesting sights.

“These species are harmful to our environment. They really can become invasive and have a really heavy impact on the environment and the native species we have here,” Stahlman said.

In addition to the turtles, Stahlman said they’ve found goldfish, water lettuce and water hyacinth in and around Presque Isle. Those species – aquarium species that were most likely dumped there – have been able to establish themselves and survive. Meanwhile, the group also is aware of a pacu fish (a South American fish related to the Piranha) found in Lake Erie.

“That (pacu) is not going to survive the cold winter,” Stahlman said. “But that also brings up the topic that as the climate changes and warms, that might start to change.”

A group from the Cleveland area, HERPS Alive, is helping Pennsylvania Sea Grant rehome the animals after the event. If the animals can’t be rehomed, the animals will live at the HERPS sanctuary indefinitely.

Pennsylvania Sea Grant is asking that people register for the event. Only so many walk-ins will be accepted. Pet owners can register online.

The group held an amnesty event about a year ago. At that event, they had two people register and ultimately received two goldfish and a turtle. This year six people already have registered and Pennsylvania Sea Grant is expecting 10 or 11 animals. Stahlman said they’re considering offering two amnesty events every year.

There are always options beyond abandoning a pet in the environment. Stahlman suggested that (if they can’t attend the amnesty event) people with unwanted aquatic pets could contact a local aquarium or garden club for options, or they could contact a retail pet store, or they could consider donating the pet to a local school so it can live its life as a classroom pet.

“Ultimately, they should be having conversations about it. They can reach out to Sea Grant and we can help them out,” Stahlman said. “They should be doing the legwork to find an alternative instead of releasing it into the wild.”

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Stahlman also said anybody interested in bringing a pet amnesty event to their community can contact Sea Grant for further information.