Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘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.

Volunteers needed to help protect terrapins!

Friday, April 24th, 2015
Training Session scheduled for May 12th at 6pm in Tuckerton
A female terrapin pauses while crossing Great Bay Blvd in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

A female terrapin pauses while crossing Great Bay Blvd in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

We work hard to protect wildlife for future generations to enjoy. One of those species, who is largely an underserved species in New Jersey is the northern diamondback terrapin. Terrapins are so cool yet hardly noticed by many. They face a HUGE amount of threats. To list a few (from greatest to least): Poaching, drowning in crab traps, road mortality, predation (usually of eggs or young), and collisions with boats and boat props. That’s a long list of threats to the health of their population, which no one really knows how they are doing…

What we’ve done with them in Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor is address a problem which was believed to be the root cause for their decline in the area. Studies that have been done in the area have stated that the overall size and age of terrapins has decreased over time. Another documented the total road mortality rate at 70% of individuals that crossed the road (the actual rate in a more recent study was around 30%, but that’s still high and having an impact). Either way, each year many terrapins are being injured and killed by motor vehicles.

Each year we recruit volunteer “Terrapin Stewards” to help patrol area roads. This hardy and extremely dedicated group of volunteers work tirelessly to prevent terrapins from becoming road kill and also collect valuable data on their annual migration to find suitable nesting areas. On May 12th at 6:00pm we are hosting a short training session for anyone interested in volunteering this year. Attendees will also learn more about all of the work that we’ve done over the past 5 years.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey “2014 Annual Report” Released

Friday, March 27th, 2015

CWF Releases its First Annual Report Ever Using a Story Map Format: “2014 Annual Report

By David Wheeler, Executive Director

Technology has proven to be vital to Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s work protecting rare wildlife species over the years. Our biologists depend greatly on modern technologies to band, track, and share online the journeys of wildlife. Our webcams broadcast the most intimate behaviors of nesting birds and bats across the web. And we seek out ever-evolving communications technologies to spread the word about the inspiring stories of wildlife, from social media and infographs to e-books and Story Maps. These technologies offer newfound abilities to share complex data on multiple levels, while still incorporating the awe-inspiring photography and videos that bring wildlife’s stories to life.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is excited to offer our 2014 Annual Report in a unique format that utilizes one of those technologies – Story Maps. In the past year, we have explored the wonders of American oystercatchers with our first Story Map – and now the annual report allows all of our projects to be highlighted in this interactive format.

A screen capture of one of the pages of the CWF 2014 Annual Report Story Map.

A screen capture of one of the pages of the CWF 2014 Annual Report Story Map.

Visit the multiple pages within this Story Map to learn about Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s many projects and partnerships in 2014, and the imperiled wildlife species in need of our help. Find examples of the innovative and dedicated leadership of our biologists and volunteers. And take an online journey across the state to learn how our projects made a difference in all corners of New Jersey in 2014 – a great year for wildlife in the Garden State!


The End of Another Terrapin Season

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
An Intern’s Perspective

By Derek Noah, CWF Intern, Summer 2014

Derek Noah, CWF Intern, collecting patron surveys at Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Derek Noah, CWF Intern Summer 2014, collecting patron surveys at Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

My name is Derek Noah, I was an intern this summer for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF). I am a wildlife and nature enthusiast who likes to kayak, bike, and hike . I live in Monmouth County and I go to the beach during any extra time I have.

The Northern diamondback terrapin is a small to medium-sized species of turtle that lives in coastal salt marshes, including the marsh near the Stone Harbor Boulevard Causeway. Adult terrapins are commonly struck by vehicles while attempting to cross causeways, and terrapin eggs are eaten by raccoon and other mammalian predators. Currently, CWF’s Wildlife Biologist, Stephanie Egger, is working with other researchers and organizations on the best way to protect wildlife and satisfy people’s needs that visit, live, or work in coastal communities in New Jersey. I collected information from visitors, residents, and employees of Stone Harbor about their understanding and perception of terrapins and management of terrapins along roadways through a patron survey. I worked on this project in July and August and surveyed nearly 500 patrons! I conducted the surveys on the beach as well as local stores and shops. The survey introduced general questions of terrapins and ideas on how to limit terrapin road death through different road management practices.  The patron survey can be viewed here.

As a thank you for their participation each person surveyed received our newest “Be Terrapin Aware” decal and our “Be Terrapin Aware” Brochure. (more…)

Terrapin Week: Spotlighting our Partners!

Friday, July 4th, 2014

This story marks the last of our 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, Wednesday, looked at great places to view these beautiful turtles . Part 4, Thursday, highlighted some important ways you can help protect the Diamondback Terrapins. Part 5, today’s post, will showcase some other important regional research being done by our partners.

Beyond New Jersey: Diamondback Terrapins across the Northeast

By Stephanie Egger, CWF Wildlife Biologist

Contributions by Don Lewis (Cape Cod Consultants), Russ Burke (Jamaica Bay Terrapin Research and Conservation), and John Wnek (Project Terrapin)

Conserving the Northern diamondback terrapin in New Jersey is vitally important to CWF and our partners. As a result, it is crucial that we work cooperatively with our partners in the Northeast for the long-term protection and sustainability of terrapins from a regional perspective.

The terrapin has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Northeast States Wildlife Action Plans (WAP).  The terrapin is found in eight states of the Northeast /mid-Atlantic regions and are considered Threatened in Massachusetts and Endangered in Rhode Island under State laws. In New Jersey, while the terrapin receives some protection under commercial and recreational fishing regulations, it is also considered a game species. The species has been also identified by the Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NEPARC) as a species of regional conservation concern in the Northeast Amphibian and Reptile Species of Regional Responsibility and Conservation Concern Report as it found in ≥ 75 % of states listed in their WAPs and > 50% of northern diamondback terrapin distribution is within the Northeast Region of North America (NEPARC 2010).

Our regional partners have invested many years into the survival of this species through their conservation and research efforts below and as partners in the development of the Northeast Regional Conservation Strategy for Terrapins headed by CWF.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts – our northernmost terrapins

Don Lewis & Sue Wieber Nourse, Turtle Journal

Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse, Cape Cod Consultants for terrapins

In Wellfleet Bay on Outer Cape Cod resides the northernmost population of diamondback terrapins.  Research on these elusive critters began in June 1980, and this longitudinal study has continued uninterrupted through this, its 35th season.  Terrapin research and conservation in Massachusetts encompasses more than 250 miles of coastline, dozens of estuaries and hundreds of sites from the fist of Cape Cod through Buzzards Bay on the South Coast to Mount Hope Bay on the Rhode Island border.  Within this expanse, there are many vestigial groups on the cusp of extirpation and a few stable populations.  Intense conservation measures over the last decade and a half have reversed statewide population declines, and numbers have begun slowly, yet steadily to increase throughout the range.  These measures focus on dramatically increasing the number of hatchlings entering the system through protecting nests and shepherding hatchlings from wild nests through a gauntlet of predators to the safety of their nursery salt marsh.  We also strive to expand nesting habitat through uplands preservation and coastal turtle gardens.  The result has been a significant, measurable increase in juvenile recruits entering these populations.

Covering this broad expanse of estuaries and beaches entails a large volunteer effort of citizen scientists augmented by hundreds of homeowners within coastal communities throughout Massachusetts.  Outreach forms the cornerstone of terrapin conservation.  Whether formal in classrooms or informal on beaches and in backyards, hands-on educational experiences transform bystanders into supporters.  The goal of each encounter is simply to change personal pronouns from “your turtles” to “our turtles.”

When terrapin activity ends in October, staff and volunteers change into winter garb and return to now frigid Cape Cod beaches to save stranded, cold-stunned sea turtles.  Each fall hundreds of sea turtles get trapped in the enormous “seine net” of Cape Cod sticking forty miles into the Atlantic Ocean, and they become too cold to survive without human intervention.  Thousands of the most endangered sea turtles in the world have been recovered from Cape beaches, rehabilitated and returned back to the ocean.

Jamaica Bay, New York

Russ Burke, Jamaica Bay Terrapin Partner

Russ Burke, Hofstra University and Jamaica Bay terrapin partner

Alex Kanonik (Queen’s College) and Russell Burke (Hofstra University) run a citizen-science project focusing on the ecology of the diamondback terrapin population in Jamaica Bay, New York.  Our work is built around a mark-recapture project started in 1998, and has been the basis for nine M.S. theses and numerous publications co-authored by high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students.  Our early focus was on nesting ecology and nest predation, then hatchling behavior, and field tests of temperature sex determination.  Currently we are investigating terrapin diets, movements and distribution in Jamaica Bay and elsewhere in New York.  We also work closely with biologists at JFK airport to address their issues with terrapins on the runways.

Barnegat Bay, New Jersey

John Wnek, Project Terrapin, partner

John Wnek, Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science and Project Terrapin

Project Terrapin, through the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, New Jersey, is conducting its 13th year of diamondback terrapin nesting research at Barnegat Bay, New Jersey.  We are studying the reproductive output of terrapins throughout Barnegat Bay with an emphasis on populations at Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

We are also studying populations by identifying critical habitat throughout the Barnegat Bay Estuary.  We conduct a mark and recapture study throughout the northern Barnegat Bay region.  The past two years, we have been focusing on possible impacts on nesting ecology as a result of “shifting” nesting habitats from the storm surge from post-tropical cyclone Sandy.  We are also mapping nesting areas throughout the system.

Our team has a few different conservation projects, including the establishment of nesting habitats in areas where there are a high density of nesting terrapins in developed coastal communities.  We also sponsor a bycatch reduction device (BRD) distribution program working with local crab pot retailers and manufacturers.  To date, we’ve distributed over 20,000 BRDs throughout Ocean County, New Jersey.

We are also working with local environmental education centers and schools to promote diamondback terrapin education, with an emphasis on habitat and the importance of protecting our barrier islands.  Project Terrapin has developed an education module called the Terrapin Education KIT used by informal and formal educators.  Finally, we also sponsor a hatchling head start program for schools throughout the state and eastern Pennsylvania.

Our latest initiative is to assist with the protection of our barrier islands by promoting and funding coastal vegetation plantings so that the dunes and coastal habitats are better stabilized.  This past year, we have reached over 6,000 people, including school students, with volunteers providing over 1100 hours. Project Terrapin works with several colleges and universities supporting both graduate and undergraduate research studies.

Contact information for our partners:

Cape Cod (MA)

Don Lewis & Sue Wieber Nourse, Turtle Journal and Facebook, (508) 274-5108

Bob Prescott, Director, Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, (508) 349-2615

Jamaica Bay (NY)

Russ Burke, Hofstra University and Facebook 

Barnegat Bay (NJ)

John Wnek, Marine Academy of Science and Technology, Project Terrapin, and Facebook


NEPARC.  2010.  Northeast Amphibian and Reptile Species of Regional Responsibility and Conservation Concern. Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NEPARC). Publication 2010-1.


Stephanie Egger is a Wildlife Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and Co-Chair of the Mid-Atlantic region of the Diamondback Terrapin Working Group