Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘reptile conservation’

Celery Farm and Beyond: Rescuing a Few Baby Terrapins

Thursday, May 30th, 2019
Photo by Jim Wright

While out on a drive along Delaware Bay friend of Conserve Wildlife Foundation Jim Wright has an unplanned encounter with our biologist Larissa Smith and several baby terrapins.

On his blog Jim says “(Larissa) explained that these tiny terrapins cross this road every late May. We helped save four of the little turtles — including three that would have likely been crushed by a giant tractor-trailer headed for a marina.  Alas, we found a few crushed little guys on the way.”


Keeping Turtles Wild

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

by Kathleen Wadiak, CWF Intern

Have you ever seen a cute little turtle on the roadside or in a river or lake? Lots of people have had the pleasure of seeing turtles in the wild- as they are often easy to see and not too weary of people! This time of year, turtles are beginning to hatch after months of developing inside eggs that were laid in the spring. When turtles are just hatched they are the most vulnerable to predators and even humans! Most hatchling turtles can fit inside the palm of your hand. Often time humans have the misconception that a small turtle is a helpless turtle. Turtles are wild and unless they are trapped or diseased- they do not need our help!

A hatchling bog turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

A hatchling bog turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

If you find a turtle, please leave it – even if the surroundings seem strange to you, it probably feels right at home. Moving turtles away from their home range can cause disorientation and leave it vulnerable to predators or other hazards.

If a turtle is ON a roadway- then it can be quickly helped off the road! Please see our recent blog post about helping turtles on the road. If you do move a turtle off the road, never take the turtle to a completely new location. Finally, handle it as little as possible to reduce the risk of injury or disease for you and the turtle.

It can be exciting to see a turtle in the wild, and it may be tempting to continue to handle it or even take it home to keep as a pet; however, it is important to remember that they are wild animals and will live much better lives in their natural habitat than they will in a tank. In many cases, wild caught turtles do not adjust to captivity, as they do not react well to sudden space and dietary restrictions. Furthermore, only a small percentage of wild turtles survive to adulthood, so removing them from the population can be detrimental to that population’s future.

Thanks for helping us Keep Turtles Wild!



Helping Turtles Off Roads

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

by Kathleen Wadiak, CWF Intern

New Jersey is home to a number of turtle species, and this time of year, it is not uncommon to see some of them crossing the road. Slow movers on land, they are not well equipped to avoid the dangers of a busy roadway. If you come across a turtle on one of your streets, what should you do?

An eastern box turtle. Photo by Ben Wurst.

An eastern box turtle. Photo by Ben Wurst.

First of all, it is important to think of your own safety in addition to the turtle’s. Be sure to pull completely over to the side of the road and to put on your hazard lights. Check for cars, and make sure that you are visible to oncoming traffic.


Snapping turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

Snapping turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

If you want to move a turtle across the road, there are a few things to keep in mind. To start, remember to never lift a turtle by its tail or limbs, as this can cause serious injury. With most turtles, it is best to pick them up on either side of their shell between the forelimbs and hind limbs. Even small ones may squirm and kick, so try to keep a firm hold and carry them low to the ground to avoid a dangerous drop!


If the turtle is large with a long tail and pointed head, it is likely a snapping turtle and should be met with some extra caution. Try using a blunt object to gently coax it to the roadside, and be careful to avoid touching it anywhere within range of its bite, which can reach as far back as the middle of its body! If you think you need to carry it, hold it with two hands on the shell behind its hind legs, on either side of the tail.


Terrapin X-ING sign along Great Bay Blvd. Photo courtesy of Ben Wurst.

Terrapin X-ING sign along Great Bay Blvd. Photo courtesy of Ben Wurst.

Before you handle a turtle, notice which direction it’s facing. Move it to that side of the street, as it is likely determined to head to a certain site, and will end up in the road again if it is moved away from its goal. This is an especially important point with the many threatened and endangered turtle species in our state. Helping turtles in trouble across a roadway and leaving them to enjoy their natural environment is a great way to ensure that there will be more wild turtles to appreciate for years to come!


Diamondback Terrapins off Game List

Thursday, July 28th, 2016


by Corrine Henn, Assistant Communications Manager

Last week on July 15th, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law effectively making it illegal to hunt or harvest diamond terrapin, a species native to New Jersey’s coastal salt marshes. Now legally considered a non-game indigenous species, the terrapin will be subject to all laws and regulations as stated in the Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act.




For many, this news is long time coming. Since 2009, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has worked diligently alongside our partners to conserve, research and raise awareness for the plight of the diamond terrapin. The Great Bay Terrapin Project aims to reduce the number of deaths and simultaneously educated the public on the importance of conserving this vital species.


Out of all the threats the terrapin face, including habitat loss, ghost crab traps, and accidental deaths, harvesting of the terrapin has increased in a number of areas around the state as the demand for terrapin (as pets) and terrapin meat grows in overseas markets.


Up until this new legislation, the diamondback terrapin could be legally harvested in New Jersey during the permitted hunting season. Unfortunately, there has never been any formal regulation in place to keep track of just how many were being taken from the wild. All that was required was that the terrapin be caught by hand. However, an incident in 2014 that resulted in the harvesting of near 3,500 terrapins only reaffirmed that something more needed to be done.



For the past two years, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) commissioner Bob Martin signed an administrative order ending the harvesting season early. The culmination of these incidents, along with years of monitoring and studying the terrapin and the ongoing threats they face supported the concerns brought forward in the legislation to Governor Chris Christie.


We have never been able to fully grasp the status of the terrapin population here in New Jersey, but this legislation opens up new opportunities and renewed hope, to those of us not only at CWF but our partners around the state. We hope that this new law will deter those who wish to harvest the terrapin illegally, and that those who do and are caught will be prosecuted.


In the meantime, there are still many ways you can help in protecting this beautiful and unique species.



Learn More:

NJDEP Closes Remainder of Terrapin Hunting Season

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
Urgent Protection for an Under-served Species in New Jersey

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

An adult female terrapin on the edge of Great Bay Blvd in Little Egg Harbor, NJ. Photo by Ben Wurst

An adult female terrapin on the edge of Great Bay Blvd in Little Egg Harbor, NJ. Photo by Ben Wurst

Northern diamondback terrapins are considered a GAME SPECIES in New Jersey. It is (or was) legal to harvest any number of terrapins from New Jersey waters during their hunting season from November 1 to March 31. There were no permits, bag limits or reporting of catches, but they had to be caught by hand (using a rake or similar device). It must have been assumed that no one considered them a valuable species to catch since their value as a food source has diminished, but that is not the case and is why the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin signed an Administrative Order closing the remainder of the commercial harvest season this year. This is the second year that the season has been closed using an Administrative Order, and is a good reason for NJDEP to take terrapins off the game list and designate them as a non-game species.

“The diamondback terrapin has long been special to many people who live in or and visit our coastal communities,” said Commissioner Martin. “Many people have dedicated countless hours to protecting its habitats and raising awareness about this unique species. We need to ensure the terrapin remains part of our coastal ecosystem.”

Unfortunately, terrapins have been an under-served species for a long time in New Jersey. As a former major food source for Native Americans then European settlers, their population has only narrowly avoided being extirpated from our waters by their over exploitation in the late 19th century. Currently, their hunting season is full of unknowns and not one biologist in New Jersey can tell you the actual size of the population. Besides being hunted in winter, terrapins face a huge amount of threats (listed in order of severity): collecting for the pet and food trade, drowning in ghost crab pots, road mortality, habitat loss/shoreline hardening, collision with boat props and hulls, and predation. With all of these threats in their environment and not knowing the current status of their population, taking no action would be a huge mistake. Terrapins are not equipped to reproduce quickly and sustain their population when there are large (and unnatural) sources of mortality. They have very slow reproductive rates and very high mortality rates. Adult females do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 9-10 years old. In addition, only around 1-3% of terrapins are believed to live to adulthood. Recent studies have shown that adult females are becoming smaller and less numerous.


Terrapins do occasionally nest at night. Photo by Ben Wurst

Terrapins do occasionally nest at night. Photo by Ben Wurst

We’ve seen far too many terrapins face terrible deaths from our way of life. This is why we are leading many grassroots conservation efforts to protect terrapins in New Jersey. Since 2009, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has worked tirelessly to help reduce the amount of diamondback terrapin road-kills, to more accurately map their range, and to educate the public about their threats in the environment in the Great Bay and Barnegat Bay watersheds as part of the Great Bay Terrapin Project. Over the past 5 years we have cut the mortality rate of adult females in half to only 4% of adults that attempt to cross Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor Twp. In 2015, with help from numerous dedicated volunteers, we documented a total of 906 individuals. Read our full report from 2015!


In 2015, we received 1,291 observations (not include our own) from various partners including a few from the public. Terrapins are extremely under reported from the general public. Most of the sightings that we get are not dispersed enough for them to be used to accurately depict their presence in their historic habitat throughout New Jersey. When they’re active during summer months the public is urged to report sightings of terrapins.


Lastly, we are the project leader for the development of a regional, multi-state strategy for Northern diamondbacks aimed at achieving long-term sustainability for terrapins throughout the Northern and Mid Atlantic Region (35 partners/8 states).  We are also working with various partners and have gotten a grant from NOAA to find and remove ghost crab pots on Barnegat Bay, which is a huge threat to terrapins and other aquatic marine life.


Some more good news. This past month, the Endangered and Nongame Species Committee voted to accept the Delphi designation of “Special Concern” for the species. We sincerely hope that legislation to remove terrapins from the game list will not be delayed any longer.


Learn More:


Ben Wurst is the Habitat Program Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.