Volunteers needed to help protect terrapins in southern Barnegat Bay
By Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager
Last year Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ started a new project that was focused on reducing the amount of terrapins that were killed by motor vehicles. The project began because of one individual terrapin that I encountered on Great Bay Blvd in 2009. I observed the female terrapin as she walked along the edge of the Blvd. I saw this as being odd. Typically they cross the road and often at a speedy pace (probably because they know the apparent danger from crossing roads). I stopped and saw that she had an injury to her lower mandible, probably from a motor vehicle. I knew that she needed help.
Terrapins face a variety of threats in their environment. An untold number are trapped in crab traps that are not fitted with Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs), some are hit by speeding boats and jet skis, and many more are injured or killed while attempting to cross roads. Along Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor several studies have documented the amount of live and dead individuals on the road.
As soil and coastal waters begin to warm, terrapins begin to become active again. In late April/early May hatchlings begin to emerge from nest cavities where they overwintered. Adults also begin to become active, but mostly remain in the waters where they live until June when females emerge to lay eggs in nests they dig on land.
Last year we raised enough funding to develop and print an educational brochure, purchase and install “Terrapin X-ING” signs, and install 4,000 feet of barrier fencing. The fencing was placed along the first stretch of road where the highest mortality rates were recorded. The fence proved to be effective at reducing road kills and increasing awareness of terrapins. The fence was removed in late 2010. This year it will be installed again along the same portion of road with help from a local construction company, Sambol Construction. After this season, we hope to keep the fence up year-round and hope to fence the whole first section of the road (and possibly more).
This year to help reduce the amount of terrapins that are hit by motor vehicles, we are recruiting volunteers to act as “Terrapin Stewards.” Stewards will be asked to routinely drive, walk, or bike down Great Bay Blvd. during the summer months from June to mid-July (especially on weekends, holidays and when there is a full or new moon). Volunteers will educate the public about terrapins, their threats in the environment, and our project. Volunteers will also help terrapins safely cross roads and help record locations of live or dead animals. No more than 10 volunteers will be recruited this year.
Our Message to visitors:
The habitat that surrounds Great Bay Boulevard is very important to the reproduction of northern diamondback terrapins, a species in decline in New Jersey. Female terrapins often nest along the soft shoulders of roadways. Sometimes they enter the roadway to reach these suitable nesting areas where they lay their eggs. Research has shown that dozens of female terrapins are killed by motor vehicles each year along Great Bay Boulevard. Please help conserve terrapins by driving carefully while traveling along the road.
If you’d like to participate you are required to attend a training session on May 3rd @ 6pm at the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. Volunteers will fill out paperwork and learn more about terrapins and our project. You must register to attend this training/information session.