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Terrapin Week: Developing a Northeast Regional Conservation Strategy for Terrapins

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

This story marks the second of 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, today’s blog post, will feature CWF’s research efforts to protect the terrapins. Part 3, on Wednesday, will look at great places to view these beautiful turtles . Part 4, Thursday, will highlight some important ways you can help protect the Diamondback Terrapins. Part 5, Friday, will showcase some other important regional research being done by our partners.

by Stephanie Egger, CWF Wildlife Biologist

I am pleased to announce CWF was awarded a grant from the Regional Conservation Needs Program* for the development of a conservation strategy (strategy) that focuses on the conservation, management, and protection of terrapins from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Stephanie Egger, CWF wildlife biologist

Stephanie Egger, CWF wildlife biologist

For the next two years, we will be working with over 30 partners, many of whom are part of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the Diamondback Terrapin Working Group (DTWG), assembling data and developing a strategy with the help of their years of expertise working with terrapins.

The overarching goal of the strategy is to help achieve long-term sustainability of terrapins by identifying the species current and historical populations and its habitat (known and unknown occupancy); characterizing and ranking threats; prioritizing focal areas for regional and individual state management; identifying data gaps; and reviewing the regulatory status in each state. The strategy will describe a strategic initiative for implementation of conservation actions across eight states and identify focal areas for conservation. The results of the strategy could be used to solicit additional funding for implementation for more regionally significant areas for terrapins in the future.

(c) Eric Sambol

(c) Eric Sambol

We’ve hit the ground running for this project and will convene the partners in meetings later this year at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and Cape Cod, Massachusetts as well as visit states for more local terrapin meetings.

More information on this project can be found on the Northeast Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) Grant Program site.

*The Northern Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) in the Northeastern United States:  A Regional Conservation Strategy” is supported by State Wildlife Grant funding awarded through the RCN Program.  The RCN Program joins thirteen northeast states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a partnership to address landscape-scale, regional wildlife conservation issues.  Progress on these regional issues is achieved through combining resources, leveraging funds, and prioritizing conservation actions identified in the State Wildlife Action Plans.  See RCNGrants.org for more information.

 

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

Its Terrapin Week!

Monday, June 30th, 2014
Join us on this fascinating journey into the world of the Diamondback Terrapin

Last week, I drove slowly down a road with no buildings or homes on either side, with only vast salt marsh as far as the eye could see. Over the course of the roughly 10-mile round trip, I passed maybe four other cars. But there was another kind of traveler that I found in abundance – 22 diamondback terrapins crossing the road on the way out, and another 18 of these gorgeous turtles on the way back (although I’m sure I saw some of them twice)!

Amazingly enough, this was a drive along the New Jersey coast in June. If you haven’t guessed it, I was on Great Bay Boulevard in Little Egg Harbor. And if you haven’t been there, now is the time to go – it is a true wildlife spectacle that you have to see to believe.

New Jersey’s coast is filled with wonders during the summer months – wonders that go beyond its crowded beaches, boardwalks, and traffic jams! Believe it or not, the coast still has plenty of nature to be found, often in total seclusion. And diamondback terrapins offer as amazing a wildlife story as any.

So today we kick off Terrapin Week! Read our first installment below for an up-close look at the terrapin’s habitat, appearance, range and status. Then stay tuned for a brand new story each day this week by our terrapin biologists Ben Wurst and Stephanie Egger, with topics including our biologists’ research projects, how our volunteers are making a difference, terrapins across the East Coast, and New Jersey locations where you have the best chance of seeing terrapins in the wild!

 

David Wheeler

Executive Director, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ


 

Meet the Terrapin

by Stephanie Feigin, CWF Program Coordinator

Northern diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) are native to New Jersey and inhabit the many miles of coastal salt marshes and estuaries along the Atlantic Coast and Delaware Bay. They exclusively inhabit coastal salt marshes, estuaries, tidal creeks and ditches with brackish water (a mix of both salt and freshwater) which is bordered by spartina grass. They are the only turtle species in the world that is specially adapted to spend its entire life in this type of water. 

Female terrapin on Great Bay Blvd. © Ben Wurst

Female terrapin on Great Bay Blvd. © Ben Wurst

The northern diamondback terrapin is a medium-sized turtle that varies in length from only 4 to 5.5” in males to 6 to 9” in females. Terrapins have a gray, brown, or black carapace (top of shell) and a lighter plastron (bottom of shell), which is a greenish-yellow. The skin is light to dark gray with black spots and other dark markings. Both sexes have a light colored upper mandible. They are named for their diamond shaped pattern on their carapace. Adult terrapins primarily eat mollusks and crustaceans, including snails, fiddler crabs, and mussels. They also eat blue crabs, green crabs, marine worms, fish, and carrion.

Terrapins are cold-blooded, or ectothermic. They hibernate during the winter and bury themselves at the bottom of or in the banks of creeks and ditches. Studies have shown that terrapins also exhibit a high level of site fidelity or they return to the same territory every year, some even occupy the same small creeks year after year. Terrapins have a very small home range, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Female Northern Diamondback terrapin (c) Jonathan Carlucci

Female Northern Diamondback terrapin (c) Jonathan Carlucci

In 2001, a status review of reptiles in New Jersey recommended that the Northern diamondback terrapin be listed as a species of special concern in New Jersey. The listing as special concern “warrants special attention because of some evidence of decline” (NJ ENSP-Species Status Listing) and little is known about their actual population status in New Jersey. However, terrapins are still harvested for food in New Jersey and the total harvested annually is not known. Since Terrapins are still considered a “Game” species subject to harvest, the Special Concern designation was never officially applied to the species and will not be until they are re-classified as a “Non-game” species.

Major threats to the health of the population include; habitat loss, mortality from being drowned in crab traps, and road mortality. Each year hundreds of terrapins are killed by motor vehicles throughout their range and here in New Jersey. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation (CWF) and their biologists are working hard to protect these incredible reptiles with their many conservation efforts. We are asking you to “Be Terrapin Aware” while driving along roads in New Jersey’s coastal region, and stay tuned for more posts during Terrapin Week about our efforts to protect these turtles!

Osprey Cam update: First egg to 21 days old

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Young osprey develop so fast!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

First egg was laid on April 19.

First egg was laid on April 19.

They were incubated for 38 days, which is slightly more than the average of 35 days in NJ.

They were incubated for 38 days, which is slightly more than the average of 35 days in NJ.

The first two eggs hatched on May 29th, and the third on June 1.

The first two eggs hatched on May 29th, and the third on June 1.

5-7 days old.

5-7 days old. Sleepy…

Feeding time is non-stop with ospreys!

Feeding time is non-stop with ospreys!

Two weeks old.

Downy and body feathers start to emerge at 14 days old.

Today marks 21 days old (for the oldest two young). They're now very active in the nest and like to check out all the cool nesting material mom & dad used in the nest.

Today marks 21 days old (for the oldest two young). They’re now very active in the nest and like to check out all the cool nesting material mom & dad used in the nest.

Photo from the Field

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
Slow down, don’t tailgate and help a terrapin cross safely!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Female terrapins often cross roads to find suitable nest sites along the Jersey Shore. © Ben Wurst

Female terrapins often cross roads to find suitable nest sites along the Jersey Shore. © Ben Wurst

This week the annual nesting season of northern diamondback terrapins began. Females leave protection of our coastal estuaries to seek out suitable nest sites, course gravel and sand, which is often along roadsides. These individuals often cross roads to get to these nest sites. Please be courteous of terrapins and slow down, leave a greater following distance, and help a terrapin cross when you see one on the road.

 

Osprey nest needs urgent repairs

Thursday, March 6th, 2014
A productive nest on the Navesink River needs a helping hand!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

UPDATE: We have learned that the pole has been straightened!! Thank you all for the support!!!

Many North American ospreys have already departed from their wintering grounds in Central America, N. South America, and the Caribbean and are on migration to their summer breeding grounds. In New Jersey, most ospreys nest along the Atlantic Coast, from Sandy Hook to Cape May and arrive in mid-late March. One nest (083-A-007) is on a decommissioned channel marker (#21) on the Navesink River, off Fair Haven. The nest was first found in 2006 and in 2013 the nesting pair successfully produced three young. Considering the current condition of the nest pole, they were really lucky to produce any young at all!

083-A-007 on the Navesink needs some TLC!

083-A-007 on the Navesink needs some TLC!

This platform was one of many that sustained damage by Superstorm Sandy. We pledged to repair any and all platforms that were reported as damaged by the Storm and did; however, we don’t have the equipment or boats to repair a leaning platform in open water, like 083-A-007. Since it was damaged we have been contacted by many concerned citizens who watch the pair that nests here. We’re sharing this story to help garner support to repair the nest pole.

Ospreys mate for life and return to the same nest site, year after year.  They will build their nest at an angle to compensate for the lean, but young are still in jeopardy of falling out of it. Our goal is to get it fixed before the pole falls over. Lastly, this is an important nest site in the region. There is very little preserved open space in this region of Monmouth County and very few osprey nests.

We need your help!

Ospreys return to their nesting grounds in mid-late March in New Jersey. © Howie Williams

Ospreys return to their nesting grounds in mid-late March in New Jersey. © Howie Williams

Last year we tried reaching out to local marine construction and bulkheading companies but had no luck getting anyone to even return our calls. Then we contacted the Bureau of Coastal Engineering’s Aids to Navigation and they did not have equipment in the area to make the needed repairs last fall (we’ve since called them again to get their assistance and are waiting to hear back).

Do you know any local bulkheading or marine construction companies who work in the Fair Haven/Rumson area? If you do, please see if they can provide some assistance so this pair of ospreys have a safe place to nest!

Contact us if you know anyone who can help: