Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Project Terrapin’

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.

Be Terrapin Aware!

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
Public urged to use caution while driving in shore areas this summer

By: Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

A adult female northern diamondback terrapin searches for a suitable nest site along Great Bay Blvd. Photo by Ben Wurst

An adult female northern diamondback terrapin searches for a suitable nest site along Great Bay Blvd. Photo by Ben Wurst

Each year in late May and early June the annual nesting season for northern diamondback terrapins begins. This unique species of turtle is the only one to inhabit our coastal estuaries year round. They live exclusively in brackish water.

During this time of year, adult females emerge from the protection of their aquatic habitat to find suitable areas to lay eggs. They seek nesting areas with a sandy gravel type substrate that’s above the high tide line.

Throughout their range along the coast, terrapins face a variety of threats to their survival. Terrapin nesting habitat has been lost due to commercial and residential development, shoreline hardening and flooding which poses a greater threat to these limited nesting areas. Loss of terrapin nesting habitat along marsh systems put terrapins at greater risk of mortality as a result of increased time searching for adequate nesting areas (Winters 2013). Terrapins will utilize roadsides for nesting which increases the threat of being hit by motor vehicles. Roads are essential to our daily life but they often are barriers to wildlife, especially small critters like terrapins. Studies have shown that adult females have become less abundant and smaller from road mortality. (Avissar, 2006).

You can help terrapins several ways during the nesting season. Driving more cautiously from now until mid-July is a simple way to be more aware of terrapins crossing the roads. Nesting peaks during the full and new moon cycles and they’re more active during the high tide (less distance to travel on land to nest sites). We ask drivers in coastal areas to “Be Terrapin Aware” while driving in these areas. If you find a terrapin crossing the road use these steps to help it cross safely:

  • Stay safe. Never put yourself at risk! Make sure that you do not endanger yourself, or others, by walking into traffic.
  • When safe to do so, pull your car over and onto the shoulder, if possible. Turn on your hazard signals.
  • When safe to enter the roadway, approach the turtle and pick it up by grabbing its shell with both hands between its front and hind legs. HOLD ON – Terrapins have strong legs!
  • It is important that you move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. They are not always headed directly towards water. They will turn around if you put them in the wrong direction, so work with their instincts.
  • Place the terrapin off the road onto the soft shoulder (dirt or grass).
  • If you have a GPS or a smartphone then record your location and submit your sighting on our website.
  • Please do not move a terrapin long distances to “somewhere safe!” They have very small home ranges and moving them will only hurt them.

Rescuing a live terrapin (or any other turtle) from the road is a rewarding experience. It’s a great way to engage future generations in caring for our terrapins.

You can also help terrapins during the nesting season by supporting our new “Turtle Gardens” project. CWF, in partnership with the Marine Academy of Technology of Environmental Sciencewill develop and implement an educational initiative to promote terrapin nesting habitat enhancement. These “Turtle Gardens” will raise awareness of the benefit of living shorelines to terrapins and other coastal wildlife, as it relates to sea level rise and coastal flooding within the Barnegat Bay Watershed. Turtle Gardens for terrapins are patches of sandy nesting habitat above the high water line that are less susceptible to flooding. They also reduce the risk of road mortality. We will be having informational training sessions for those that would like to volunteer for monitoring Turtle Gardens or have property that would support a Turtle Garden. Information on these sessions will be announced in mid-June.

In addition, we will also be looking for terrapin sighting information with Project Terrapin in Berkeley and Lacey Townships in Ocean County as part of an initiative to fill in data gaps for this species on the mainland. If you see terrapins in these locations please report your sightings online.

Learn more:

 

Ben Wurst is the Habitat Program Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and Stephanie Egger is a Wildlife Biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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