Conserve Wildlife Blog

Giving Back to Great Bay Terrapins

November 25th, 2019

CWF partners with NJ Fish & Wildlife to enhance habitat for terrapins in Little Egg Harbor

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

A female terrapin nesting along Great Bay Blvd.

Northern diamondback terrapins are a coast hugging, saltmarsh living, shellfish eating, aquatic turtle. Their ultimate survival depends on the ability of adult females to safely access nesting areas during summer months. Since 2010 CWF has worked to document and reduce roadkills of terrapins on roads in southern Ocean and northern Atlantic Counties. 

Our main project area is within Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area, where at times, there are more terrapins than cars on the road. Each year CWF recruits two volunteer student interns to lead fieldwork with assistance from dedicated local volunteers. They conduct surveys and collect data on terrapins that are encountered on area roads, including Great Bay Blvd. Since 2016 we have been notching a small percentage to identify them when recaptured. Mark-recapture data collected can help biologists to estimate the size of the local population, which is currently unknown. We believe that the population here is quite robust, but there are still many threats, like poaching, drowning in ghost crab pots, and sea level rise, which threaten their long-term stability. 

An aerial photo of the habitat enhancement site inside Great Bay Blvd. WMA.

To help give females a better chance of successfully reproducing, CWF has partnered with New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife to create a half-acre “turtle garden” at a former marina called Rands Boats. We kicked off the project late last week by installing ~ 300′ of split rail fence. Over the next couple weeks, around 3000 tons of sand will be added to a portion of the old parking lot, which is currently not suitable for terrapins to nest. The sand will be stabilized with coir logs (a coconut fiber log) and native plants (dunegrass, seaside goldenrod, bayberry, beach plum, and groundsel tree). Pollinators, like the monarch butterfly, will benefit from the flowering plants as well. A split rail fence will protect the site from vehicle traffic.

The use of the restoration site by adult female terrapins will be monitored by CWF volunteers and biologists as part of our Great Bay Terrapin Project throughout their breeding season. Remote cameras will be installed to help monitor the site and prevent poaching.

We believe that the creation of nesting habitat for female terrapins is critical to their long-term survival.  As coastal areas are more frequently flooded over time, terrapins will lose many of their historic nesting areas.  With very high levels of site fidelity and small home ranges, it is important to enhance habitat for them to nest.  In addition, the creation of this site will drastically help improve the chances of the survival of young terrapins through direct monitoring and protection of nests by volunteers.  

A portion of the funding for this project is being supplied by Forked River Power LLC through a NJDEP Supplemental Environmental Project which CWF obtained this year. You can read our proposed project here.

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