Chicago, IL

Why the chubby snapping turtle 'Chonkosaurus' means good news for the Chicago River

Jennifer Geer

The once heavily polluted Chicago River is showing new signs of life.

(CHICAGO) A video of a very chunky snapping turtle sunbathing on the Chicago River went viral last week. The media picked up on this adorably massive turtle, and his picture has been spotted everywhere. And while Chonkosaurus is undeniably cute, his sighting has significant meaning for the Chicago River.

In a now-viral tweet, the turtle dubbed Chonkosaurus can be seen sprawling on a pile of rusty chains in the river.

"Chicago River Snapper aka Chonkosaurus. Great to see this beast thriving here on what was once such a toxic river, but is slowly getting cleaned up & restored. Somebody planted a bunch of native plants up the river from here, too. I can only wonder this things been eating."

The Chicago River was once a dumping ground for waste

The river was once a polluted mess of toxins. In the 1800s sewage and waste from the lumber and meatpacking industries were dumped into the river.

Even today, the old system of pipes carrying sewage to treatment plants can get overwhelmed during heavy rainstorms. Rainwater, combined with sewage can overflow into the old pipes and empty into the river.

The 1972 Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped environmentalists begin the long process of cleaning up the water quality of the Chicago River. And today, the progress can be seen.

Joey Santore, a botanist, filmed the viral video of the giant turtle. Santore believes it's good news for the health of the Chicago River to find a reptile that's thriving as much as Chonkosaurus appears to be. “As the industry has left, things have gotten a little more cleaned up, so I was expecting to see wildlife, but it was just the size and age of that thing that kind of shocked me,” Santore told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Santore believes Chonko weighs around 60 pounds. Most likely, he's been roaming the waterway for at least two decades to have had time to grow so big.

Water quality is improving

According to Chicago Friends of the River, the water quality of the river has been continuously improving, "the Chicago River and its sister streams are alive with activity both on and under the water. Water quality standards for recreation have been greatly improved and aquatic life standards are in review."


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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

Chicago, IL

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