Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘turtle’

Helping Turtles Off Roads

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
ROADS ARE DANGEROUS CROSSINGS FOR SLOW-MOVING TURTLES

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!


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Diamondback Terrapins off Game List

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

UNDER-SERVED SPECIES RECEIVES RECOGNITION IN NEW JERSEY

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.