Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Little Egg Harbor Twp’

Photo From The Field

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

Terrapin hatchlings and 3000 tons of sand.

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

If lucky, I might cross paths with this terrapin in another decade (if it’s a female) and she overcomes the odds and returns to nest here as an adult.

While out inspecting our newly created terrapin habitat enhancement site in Little Egg Harbor, I found several terrapin hatchlings who were traversing the 36″ high pile of sand. I was expecting to see some hatchlings, since many arise from the protection of nest cavities on warm spring days in April, but not on top of our enhancement site. The moment I spotted one of these half dollar sized turtles, I looked into the distance and saw another.


Photo from the Field

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The Lucky 8: Tiny terrapin hatchlings rescued!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

A clutch of eight tiny terrapin hatchlings found beneath one of our X-ING signs. photo by Ben Wurst

While removing our seasonal (better late than never!) terrapin X-ING signs on Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor yesterday, we stumbled upon some tiny northern diamondback terrapin hatchlings. These little guys were hiding or trapped under a very large (and heavy) X-ING sign made from old pallets that someone knocked over (I say guys because they hatched later in the season and it was a very cool August, but some could be girls). At first I didn’t see anything, but upon closer inspection I saw several hatchlings in the vegetation. One, two, three, four, five, six. Then I dug a little with my hand and found two more. The sign had been atop a nest. (more…)

Terrapin Week: Viewing Terrapins!

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

How to See Terrapins in the Wild in New Jersey

This story marks the third of five blog stories spotlighting New Jersey’s Diamondback Terrapin – and educating people on the research and efforts being done to protect these fascinating reptiles!

Part 1, Monday, was an introduction into the world of the Diamondback Terrapin. Part 2, Tuesday, featured CWF’s research efforts to protect the terrapins. Part 3, today’s blog post, will look at great places to view these beautiful turtles. Part 4, Thursday, will highlight some important ways you can help protect the Diamondback Terrapins. Part 5, Friday, will showcase some other important regional research being done by our partners.


by Ben Wurst

During full and new moon cycles females terrapins are hard NOT to see on Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

During full and new moon cycles females terrapins are hard NOT to see on Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

During their nesting season, Northern diamondback terrapins are usually pretty easy to spot along the coast of New Jersey, and throughout their range. They are beautiful turtles with very unique coloration.

Individuals vary in coloration, but in general, their upper shell, or carapace, is dark with a diamond shaped pattern on it. Their lower shell, or plastron, is a light yellow/green color. Their skin is a grey color with black spots that vary highly between individuals. Almost all have a light upper mandible.

From May through July, spotting a terrapin is pretty easy!

Females leave the protection of the coastal waterways to find suitable nest sites to lay eggs. They seek areas with sandy soil, like dunes, parking lots and road shoulders. When our barrier islands were developed, roads were created to access those islands.

The creation of these roads also increased the amount of available nest sites for terrapins. But the development itself actually decreased the amount of suitable nesting habitat for them overall. Much of our coast is now bulkheaded.

Bulkheading restricts the natural movement of terrapins and limits their ability to find suitable nest sites. So, now they must take what they can get: roadsides. Nesting on the edges of roads is a perilous journey for terrapins. The vehicles that travel on those coastal roads may have careless drivers behind the wheel.

Terrapins may be found in many different places along the coast, especially roads that criss-cross saltmarsh. Use extreme caution in trying to spot terrapins on active roads used by vehicles – not only to avoid driving over terrapins, but for your own safety and that of other drivers or pedestrians.

Some widely used locations include Avalon Boulevard and other west-east highways connecting the mainland with barrier islands and peninsulas. Many coastal areas in Cape May also feature high numbers of terrapins, while Monmouth County, Ocean County, and Meadowlands coastal regions feature plenty of terrapins as well.

However, one of the best places to view terrapins during their nesting season is inside the 5,000+ acre Great Bay Blvd. Wildlife Management Area, Little Egg Harbor, NJ. The WMA is located along the coast and is accessible by motor vehicle from the 5 mile long road that ends at the Rutgers Marine Field Station. The road was originally planned to connect the mainland with Atlantic City in the early 1900s. Luckily that plan fell through and the last bridge was never built (road is also called 7 Bridges Road, after the 7th bridge that was never built). There is plenty to see and do out on GBB, at all times of the year. A wide variety of wildlife can be observed from the road, including ospreys, terns, oystercatchers, herons, egrets, and shorebirds. Lots of outdoor recreation opportunites await as well, including crabbing, fishing, and kayaking. There are boat ramps along the road, and all the owners of the local marinas are very nice, including Capt. Mike’s, Rand’s Boats, and Cape Horn Marina.

A nesting terrapin.

A nesting terrapin.

Viewing terrapins:

Terrapins can be timid if approached, especially when nesting. Please keep your distance when near a nesting female. You wouldn’t want to cause a female to abandon laying eggs in a nest cavity! If she is unable to cover up her eggs with soil then they might become an easy meal for a gull or crow… Watching them nest is fun to watch as they excavate down and lay 8-12 eggs.

If you see one on the road and there is no traffic, slow down or stop and let it cross. If there is traffic coming, stop your vehicle, put on your hazard lights and carefully get out and move the terrapin in the direction it is heading. Terrapins can bite, so be careful and pick it up from the side of it’s shell (called the bridge). Use 1-2 hands to ensure you have a good grip. Sometimes they use their legs to try and get you to let go! Put it on the soft shoulder to be out of harms way. If you have a GPS or a smartphone, record the location and submit us a sighting via our online terrapin sighting form. Data collected from the form will help guide future conservation efforts for them in NJ.

Other great viewing areas:
  • Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit
  • Island Beach State Park
  • Edwin B. Forsythe NWR – Oceanville
  • Wetlands Institute – Stone Harbor
  • Reeds Beach
  • Fortescue Beach

Ben Wurst is a wildlife biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Photo from the Field

Monday, May 14th, 2012
Volunteers help install innovative new barrier to reduce terrapin road kills

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Last week volunteers from CWF and Exelon-Oyster Creek Generating Station helped to install 1,000 feet of barrier “fencing” along the first stretch of Great Bay Blvd inside Great Bay Blvd Wildlife Management Area. The new barrier is a new design and concept for reptile conservation here in NJ and possibly the rest of N. America. While many other types of barriers have been used by other organizations this type has not. It is a corrugated rigid plastic drainage pipe that was cut in half. It was made in NJ by ADS (Advanced Drainage Solutions) and was purchased through Caterina Supply, a local supplier of the pipe. Funding was provided through a Partners Agreement between Little Egg Harbor Twp. and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (who purchased the pipe). The pipe came pre-cut from ADS and was transported by Eric Schrading with USFWS. To install the pipe we trenched a ditch and then hand dug it to the width of the 10″ pipe. It was then backfilled and screwed together where two pieces met. The main reason from switching from a traditional fence type barrier to this was to reduce future maintenance. Fences are easily damaged by motor vehicles and posts have been stolen or ripped out of the ground, so they take more time to repair throughout the year. This pipe should be maintenance free and hopefully if a car drives over it only minor damage will occur…we hope!!

Volunteers and employees from Exelon-Oyster Creek helped us to install 1,000 linear feet of barrier "fencing" to help reduce road kills of northern diamondback terrapins along Great Bay Blvd. © Ben Wurst

If you’re interested in using this in your own reptile/amphibian conservation project email me and I’d be happy to help in any way possible!

Thank you to all the volunteers, vendors, and partners who help make this project a success!! To name a few: Home Depot of Manahawkin for donating the trencher for an afternoon, USFWS & Eric Schrading for purchasing and transporting the pipe, and Little Egg Harbor Twp. for their continued support of this project.

Reduce the speed limit on Great Bay Blvd.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Ask Little Egg Harbor to help us protect terrapins!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

This female northern diamondback terrapin was not able to lay her clutch of eggs after being killed by a motor vehicle on Great Bay Blvd. © Ben Wurst

Currently there are no posted speed limits on Great Bay Boulevard from Sea Isle Drive to the east end in Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County, New Jersey. The road bisects one of the largest state wildlife management areas along the entire coast of New Jersey which is also designated as the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. Designation as a National Estuarine Research Reserve is “to promote the responsible use and management of the nation’s estuaries through a program combining scientific research, education, and stewardship.” The habitat alongside the road is home a diverse array of wildlife and one species, the northern diamondback terrapin, often crosses the roadway to get to prime nesting areas along the road shoulders.

Female terrapins range in length from 6-9″ and actively search for nesting areas during summers months from May through July. They are hard to see with their dark coloration and high speed limits make identification even harder. On some days as many as 50 terrapins can be seen crossing the road. Many people stop to help these terrapins cross safely and they themselves put their lives in jeopardy. Luckily no one has been seriously injured or killed yet. Unfortunately, terrapins aren’t so lucky, previous studies have indicated that up to 30% of terrapins are killed on Great Bay Blvd. while attempting to find suitable nesting areas (Szerlag and McRobert, 2006).

The Township of Little Egg Harbor knows about the problem there but has done little to help solve it. Public safety should be a serious concern for any type of government. In other parts of New Jersey and in other states people and property have been seriously injured or killed and damaged while either helping one cross safely or by avoiding a collision with them.

Little Egg Harbor can help reduce the chances that a pedestrian gets killed or injured, and they can reduce the amount of terrapins that are killed by motor vehicles. By reducing the speed limit along the road from 50 mph to 30mph both people and wildlife benefit and motorists get to their destination safely.

Szerlag, S., and S. P. McRobert. 2006. Road occurrence and mortality of the northern diamondback terrapin. Applied Herpetology 3:27-37.