Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘MATES’

Diamondback terrapins given ‘head start’, thanks to schoolkids

Monday, July 2nd, 2018
Story by The Sandpaper 

ESTIMATING AGE: Marissa Thomasen shows Bass River School children how she measures the carapace of a terrapin for her data log. Photo by Pat Johnson, The Sandpaper

Giving kids a head start in learning about nature is the point of Head Start Terrapins, a school course started by the Ocean County MATES program and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. Last October, Ben Wurst, CWFNJ project manager for Bass River and Balanger Creek, picked up seven quarter-sized baby diamondback terrapins from the roadside on Great Bay Boulevard, Little Egg Harbor Township.

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Ghost Fishing

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

How CWF Is Fighting This Threat to Wildlife in Barnegat Bay

by Emily Heiser, Wildlife Biologist

 

For many coastal communities in New Jersey, like the Barnegat Bay region, winter is a time for rejuvenation and the preparation of our resources for a busy summer season.  It only makes sense that we also start to prepare the coast’s most precious resource – the bay.  

 

Barnegat Bay is approximately 42 miles of brackish marsh and bay bordering Ocean County.  The bay and surrounding marshlands are rich in vital resources that directly and indirectly support over 60,000 jobs and have an economic value of $2 to $4 billion dollars annually (Barnegat Bay Partnership Economic Report 2012).   

 

Pots are often heavily encrusted with organisms and can contain several different species of bycatch. @ John Wenk

Part of that economic value is attributed to the tremendous blue claw crab fishery in the bay.  The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates that commercial and recreational crabbers harvest around 6 million crabs per year from New Jersey waters.  Barnegat Bay, along with Little Egg Harbor and the Maurice River estuary comprise approximately 65-86% of the recreational harvest that occurs annually.  Recreational crabbers use a variety of methods, but typically rely on baited pots or hand lines for crabbing.  Regulations exist for the use of pots, but their unintentional loss has created an economic and environmental problem for all portions of Barnegat Bay.

 

CWF, along with our partners, has been diligently organizing and executing what is essentially a cleanup of these pots within Barnegat Bay.  In 2015 and 2017, CWF was granted a NOAA Marine Debris Removal Program grant to support the removal of derelict crab pots, also know as ghost pots, from Barnegat Bay.  Over the course of the last three years, we have removed over 1,300 crab pots that have become a death trap for a variety of marine organisms, including diamondback terrapins and otherwise fishable blue crabs.  

 

Students from the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science assist in assessing pots after they’ve been pulled from the bay. @John Wenk

All of the fieldwork on this project occurs during the chilling winter months when only the hardiest of fishermen can be found on the water.   The blue crab season is open in most parts of the state from March 15th – November 30th leaving the coldest months to head out and collect pots that are not supposed to be actively fishing.  Several partners have made this project a possibility – the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, Stockton University, Monmouth University, ReClam the Bay, American Littoral Society, and through contracts with local fishermen.  

 

Using side-scan sonar units, crews head out in early December to start looking for ghost pots.  Once a sufficient number of pots have been marked, waypoints are transferred over to retrieval crews.  Retrieving the pots sounds easy in theory, but can be time-consuming and success is dependent on many compounding factors such as substrate, weather, and tidal conditions.  Upon relocation of a surveyed pot, the captain must line the boat up to the best of their ability and with as much accuracy as they can, instructs the crew where to throw the grapple line.  Often you hear them call out, “Five feet – left center” and amazingly, the crew throws the grapple and hooks into a pot!  Depending on the substrate and how long the pot has been on the bay floor, it can be very difficult and dangerous to leverage out.  With the use of just the right amount of engine power, sunken pots can be delicately coaxed out of the water and lifted onto the boat by crews.  Once a pot is on the boat, a rapid assessment is done to look for unintended bycatch, pot design, and encrusting organisms.  Some of the various bycatch that has been found in pots include several species of crabs, lobster, flounder, tautog, and sadly, several diamondback terrapins.  One pot contained the remains of more than 17 diamondback terrapins.  

 

Ghost pots are disposed of by NFWF and Covanta’s Fishing for Energy Program where they will be recycled and turned into energy. @John Wenk

After a day of retrievals, the crew heads back to the marina where pots are placed in a disposal bin.  The bins are provided to the project through the successful Fishing for Energy Program run by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta Energy, and Schnitzer Steel.  Gear collected from our port is stripped for recyclable materials at Schnitzer Steel and then non-recyclable material is turned into energy at Covanta’s facility in Rahway, New Jersey.  The holistic nature of this project breathes life into the term, “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

 

Barnegat Bay’s ghost pots exemplify an overarching issue of our environment, human-wildlife conflicts.  The Bay’s vital resources drive the economy and addressing these issues make us better stewards of the Bay and its resources.

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…)

Providing a Safe Haven for Diamondback Terrapins

Thursday, August 27th, 2015
A Closer Look at Project Terrapin, a Growing Initiative that Focuses on Diamondback Terrapin Conservation

by Kiran Sinha, 2015 Project Terrapin Field Team Member and Wildlife Conservation Intern

Terrapin Hatchlings by Kiran Sinah

Terrapin Hatchlings by Kiran Sinha

Diamondback Terrapins are a species native to coastal marsh areas in New Jersey. Terrapins are an interesting species, in part because they are the only native New Jersey turtle that has adapted to marsh habitats. Diamondbacks have been spotted all over the Great Bay area, increasingly so in the Manahawkin-Long Beach Island area. Although their shells are extravagant and beautiful, sometimes it is hard to notice them in the water, especially when it is dark and murky. Terrapins can travel by water and land; neither is safer than the other in the busy water and road ways of Barnegat Bay.

 

Diamondbacks in New Jersey have had a high mortality rate due to impact from cars and boats. In fact, only one in fifty hatchlings survive to a full-grown adult. One teacher and terrapin conservationist is trying to change that. Dr. John Wnek is a teacher at M.A.T.E.S High School in Manahawkin. Dr. Wnek is an avid terrapin conservationist and he incorporates it into his schoolwork as much as possible. For the past few years he has been rescuing terrapins in the Barnegat Bay area. Whether they are hit by a boat, a car, or trapped in a net, Dr. Wnek is there to help. He has many terrapins in his classroom, mostly those that he rescues. He introduced his love for terrapins to his students and they have joined in to help with a growing initiative, Project Terrapin.

 

For this project, Dr. Wnek and his students distribute over one hundred terrapin hatchlings to coastal high schools and colleges in New Jersey. These students and teachers keep their turtles in the classroom and take care of them for almost a full school year. At the end of May every year, the students and teachers from each school join at Island Beach State Park to release the hatchlings into the Barnegat Bay. When the turtles are hatched in the wild, they sometimes do not even make it to the marsh water or bay. Predators, such as seagulls, can pick them up easily when they are so small.

 

With the help from the schools, the terrapins are well fed and kept clean from diseases so they can finally be set free in their new homes. A very important part of maintaining the hatchlings while in the classroom is keeping track of them after they are released. Since the little turtles are too small to tag, we perform a procedure called notching. This process is like filing a human finger nail; it is quick, simple and painless. To notch a turtle shell, we use a filer to leave indents in the shell. As you can see from the pictures below, turtles have keratin plates that make up the shell, called scutes. In order to mark them accordingly to the year, we correlate each scute with the letter of the alphabet. This year we used the letters N and O, you can see the scutes that are marked on the hatchling and turtle. Once this process is complete, we finally set our little buddies go to where they can thrive and reproduce. The goal of this project is to help replenish the diamondback terrapin population, with the help of Dr. Wnek and his students, the next generation of terrapin conservationists.

Photo by Kiran Sinah

Photo by Kiran Sinha

Learn more:

 

Kiran Sinha is a summer 2015 Wildlife Conservation Intern with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and a 2015 field team member for Project Terrapin.

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