Great News for Terrapins!

Dear Terrapin Conservation Supporters,

Terrapin - IMG_4663More good news! New Jersey’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee and Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources committees recently met to consider  Bill S-1625 and A-2949 to classify diamondback terrapins a as non-game indigenous species. The bill passed both committees and will move forward to a full vote. The Wetlands Institute is supportive of this bill that will provide terrapins greater protection and end the harvest in New Jersey.

If you would like to voice support for the bill, you can find contact information for your state representatives at the link below.

A Record Breaking Sanderling

2013-12__121_SanderlingMigratory shorebirds are attracted to barrier island beaches for resting and foraging along their many-thousand mile long annual journey. Sanderlings are the shorebirds commonly seen running in and out with the waves, quickly grabbing food from the sand with their bills. One such individual we spotted foraging on Stone Harbor Point last fall carried around its leg a band with a unique code. By submitting the code, we learned that this sanderling was the oldest sanderling ever found- at least 13.5 years old! This individual, like millions of others, depends on opportunities to rest and eat undisturbed at critical habitats provided by our barrier island beaches year after year.

Want to help? Avoid disturbing birds on the beach and follow posted signage throughout the year.

Two Nations for One Wetlands

2015-10_530In 2014, The Wetlands Institute, Wetland Link International, and Wetlands International Russia teamed up to generate a beneficial international dialogue between wetland centers in the US and Russia. This project, Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program: Linking People and Wetlands, brought staff from wetland centers in the US and Russia together to share best practices and approaches in environmental education, support the development of effective outreach and education activities, and directly link peers to foster greater cultural understanding.

Through a series of full immersion exchange visits throughout 2015, six wetland centers equally divided between the US and Russia were able to travel abroad to visit their partner centers and spend several days exploring commonalities and differences between the two centers. This past October, The Wetlands Institute (TWI) hosted their project partners Dmitry Belyaev and Alexander Kochergin from Smolensk Lakeland National Park. For five days, Dmitry and Alexander explored South Jersey ecosystems, while visiting local environmental education organizations and learning from TWI community partners.

IMG_4036The culmination of the project was a 3-day international conference held at The Wetlands Institute. The conference brought all wetland centers together to explore lessons learned, discuss best practice approaches for using social media, data sharing and outreach to further environmental education, and produce a bilingual best practices manual for use in wetland centers. The highlight of the conference was a public open house where project partners shared their experiences and lessons learned. To view, the open house presentation, please visit the project website at:

25 Years of Protecting Diamondback Terrapins

by Brian Williamson

Terrapin-posingIf you spend time at the shore, you probably are familiar with diamondback terrapins. They are our local saltmarsh turtle; unique in that they are the only reptiles that thrive in this habitat. They are most often seen when the females come out of the marshes to nest from May until July. You also may have seen their heads as you kayak through local creeks. Perhaps you have seen the quarter-sized hatchlings, which emerge from their nests in the fall and spring.

Yet terrapins are in trouble throughout their range. They face the effects of habitat loss due to human development and climate change. Although males rarely leave the water, nesting females often must cross roads to nest and hundreds are killed each summer. Untold numbers are caught as bycatch in crab traps and drown each year. Nest and hatchling predators, such as raccoons and skunks, are now more abundant due to the feast our garbage provides. This overabundance of predators reduces the number of hatchlings that survive to maturity. All of these threats combine to make the future of terrapins uncertain.

The Wetlands Institute has worked diligently for over 25 years to make sure terrapins remain a vital part of our local coastal ecosystem. Started by Dr. Roger Wood in conjunction with Stockton University, our terrapin research and conservation program works to increase our understanding of terrapins and develop ways to protect them from the threats they face.

In 1991 we began patrols of local roadways to document impacts of vehicles on terrapin populations. Each year, from May through July, we patrol 38 miles of roads from Stone Harbor to Sea Isle City. Data collected on patrols have revealed the scale of the threat roads pose to terrapins – nearly 500 female terrapins are killed each year on these roads.

IMG_1519While this is a sobering statistic, our patrols allow us to reduce impacts from roads. Many terrapins killed on roads still hold viable eggs. We retrieve these eggs and incubate them in our lab. Incubation temperature determines sex for terrapins; therefore, we adjust incubator temperatures to produce female hatchlings and help offset the loss of their deceased mothers. With the help of Stockton University and trained school teachers, we raise these hatchlings for one year, keeping them active and fed year-round. This process, called headstarting, allows terrapins to reach a size up to three times that of a wild turtle the same age, and leaves them less vulnerable to predators. Over the years, we have released 2,250 headstarted terrapins to local marshes. Each year we also treat injuries and save hundreds of terrapins crossing roads, and work with partners to limit the number of terrapins crossing roads.

Since 1997 we have been conducting a long-term population study of terrapins in our local marshes. Each year, we capture terrapins and mark them with uniquely coded microchips that let us identify individuals. To date, we have marked nearly 5,000 terrapins. By marking, releasing, and recapturing turtles over many years, we can derive population size, survival rates, growth, movements, and individual nesting habitat preferences to help us better understand and protect them.

We also protect terrapin nests with predator exclosures, distribute Bycatch Reduction Devices to keep terrapins out of crab pots, work with volunteers to rescue terrapin hatchlings from storm drains, mentor interns each summer who help conduct research projects on terrapins, and engage the public in terrapin conservation. Over the past 25 years The Wetlands Institute has become a leader in diamondback terrapin research and conservation. We remain committed to monitoring and protecting terrapin populations near and far, and look forward to continuing our legacy of terrapin conservation into the future.

The Wetlands Institute Hosts 6th Annual Turtle Fest

web_turtle-fest-2Stone Harbor, NJ – On Saturday, March 26th, The Wetlands Institute will be hosting its 6th Annual Turtle Fest from 9:00am to 3:00pm. This fun-packed day will kick-off with a pancake breakfast with scheduled seatings at 9:00am, 10:00am, 10:45am, and 11:30am (reservations recommended).

Children can enjoy a different twist on the traditional egg hunt with a terrapin-themed egg hunt. They can also create arts and crafts, help a naturalist search for turtle hatchlings along the Salt Marsh Trail, and stop by the aquarium to watch the animals have breakfast too!

Reservations are recommended for breakfast seatings and can be submitted using the form at or by calling 609-368-1211. Gluten-free pancakes are available upon request.

The Wetlands Institute has hosted this event for the past 6 years in an effort to increase awareness for the human-related struggles the diamondback terrapin faces and to promote conservation of the species. To find out more about The Wetlands Institute’s terrapin conservation programs and how you can help please visit




About The Wetlands Institute:

The Wetlands Institute is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting appreciation, understanding and stewardship of wetlands and coastal ecosystems through our programs in research, conservation and education. We inspire visitors of all ages to appreciate and steward wetlands and coastal ecosystems by teaching them the importance of those systems and how they relate to their own lives. Visit our website at to find out more about our programs and mission.



Wetlands Institute Faces Critical Challenges to Wetland Habitats

Wetlands Institute Faces Critical Challenges to Wetland Habitats

Climate Change, Rising Sea Levels, Loss of Biodiversity and Wetlands

Stone Harbor, NJ, – As a regional leader in wetlands conservation for almost 50 years, The Wetlands Institute located outside of Stone Harbor, NJ, remains at the forefront of vital wetlands research and education as it faces crucial conservation challenges to marine life and healthy wetlands. Situated on 6,000 acres of habitat for migratory birds and horseshoe crabs, the Institute is at the epicenter of the most complex and critical challenges facing the region: climate change, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity and wetlands habitat. To address these pressing challenges, the Institute has initiated an intensive education campaign to encourage public support for wetland and habitat conservation.

“These challenges can no longer be ignored,” said Institute Executive Director Lenore Tedesco. “Today, the threats to wetlands have never been greater with climate change and rising sea levels already impacting wetlands.  The struggle to address these seminal issues and engage the public in understanding and mitigating these impacts is significant and The Wetlands Institute is responding to these needs.”

The Institute took on these pressing issues by restructuring the research and conservation department, recruiting several key scientists, and initiating several new conservation and education programs. After Hurricane Sandy, the Institute constructed an elevated walkway over the marsh to enhance education opportunities and expanded monitoring programs that include detailed marsh elevation measurement stations to understand the impacts of rising sea level on local coastal resiliency. The Institute works with multi-partner teams to test experimental techniques in marsh restoration and habitat enhancement to stabilize natural areas and help stressed and declining animal populations.

Wetlands Institute personnel raise these important issues and solutions to the public through various programs and media.  As they work to rebalance ecosystems and animal populations suffering from both natural and man-made stresses, they explore new methods to restore wetlands and barrier island habitats to maintain resilient coasts.  They help diamondback terrapin populations cope with habitat loss and pressures from island development and roadways. Project teams rescue and return spawning horseshoe crabs to Delaware Bay waters and hatch horseshoe crab eggs to help stabilize their populations and accelerate population recovery.

To further raise these issues with the public, the Institute produced a new short documentary video featuring the important work of the Institute as it faces these challenges, and this past October, Institute Executive Director Lenore Tedesco took the message to the global TED network by giving a TEDxCapeMay talk entitled See Climate Change.”

A Bird’s Eye View of the Meadows in Action

By Dr. Lenore Tedesco

A new addition to the research and education programs at the Institute is the installation of live video cameras. Three cameras are mounted on the tower and provide beautiful views of the marsh. They supplement the osprey nest cam and allowed us to observe our fledgling osprey Chance until she ultimately left for warmer climates to the south. One of the cameras looks to the southeast and includes the marsh walkway and another camera provides sweeping views of the marsh to the south of the Institute. The cameras are accessible via the Institute website.

The Jersey Shore and much of the Atlantic Coast from New York to the Carolinas was battered by heavy winds and catastrophic rain for most of the first week of October. Gale force winds blew from the northeast for more than five days and storm tides filled the marshes and back bays. During high tides for several days, the marsh grasses were invisible, and the first time visitor could mistake the marshes for open bays. These storm tides were added onto higher than normal tides that were related to the full moon on September 27th and 28th. The combination of astronomical high tides and storm tides resulted in the marsh being deeply flooded for more than nine days for several hours around each high tide.
An added benefit of the cameras is that they allowed viewers to see how the marshes were doing and track the early October storms from wherever they were. The cameras were extensively used during the storm. In fact, we had more than 9,700 visits to the livecam web page over that four day period. We are pleased to be able to provide this service to our community.

Lots of folks were wondering how the birds fared. Most hunkered down and waited the storm out. We are in the midst of the great fall migration and for most birds, the migration was interrupted and began again in earnest after the storm passed. The same is true for the monarch butterflies.

Capture1 Capture2As I look over the marshes in the golden fall beauty, I am thankful for the services the marshes provide. Once again, the marshes did their job – and did it well, absorbing billions of gallons of flood waters and dampening waves. As I sat in my office, day after day, listening to the winds buffeting the building and watching the marsh become part of the bay, I gave thanks to Herbert Mills and his visionary leadership, for preserving these marshes for our well-being.

The new cameras allow you to enjoy the majesty of the marshes from wherever you are. Check them out!

Thank You Volunteers!


Christina Faulk (left) Diana McFadden (right)

Our volunteers give of themselves and bring with them their skills, abilities, and compassion and ask for nothing in return. Their commitment to the Institute is an inspiration to all of us. We recently held a celebration to thank these individuals.

Several of our volunteers helped at the front desk or with special events. Others gave their time teaching or assisting in the Aquarium and with Summer Nature Programs. Some also helped with terrapin projects such as spotting nesting females, installing nest exclosures to protect eggs from predation, and monitoring the nests for hatchlings.

This year alone, 71 Junior Volunteers gave a total of 1431 hours; 65 Adult Volunteers providing us with 1328 hours of service; and 112 One Day Volunteers assisted us for 344 hours. Together, these devoted individuals were responsible for an aggregate 3103 donated hours.

Our top junior volunteer for the year was Maria Riley who gave 110 hours of service.

Our top adult volunteer for 2014 was Diana McFadden (pictured above) with 230 hours donated.

Thank you for all that you do!

Dr. Tedesco Named Stone Harbor’s Citizen of the Year



Dr. Lenore Tedesco, our Executive Director has been selected as Stone Harbor’s Citizen of the Year. At its Fall General Membership meeting on Saturday, September 12, Stone Harbor Property Owners Association President Jeff Alderton provided the following comments:

“Dr Tedesco is an absolutely dedicated professional in the areas of Marine Geology and Geophysics. Her credentials are astounding, both professionally and personally. Her schooling is beyond reproach. She is a researcher, a teacher, an organizer, a leader, and a woman who has made an significant impact on Stone Harbor, our surrounding communities, and quite frankly, the world at large. Her skills and abilities have strengthened one of our true treasures in town – the Bird Sanctuary. She takes enormous pride in preserving, protecting, and restoring natural resources, which is evidenced by all the work she has done on Stone Harbor Point, from 122nd street into the dune section clear to the bridge. She is known for making a difference, she treads lightly to get things accomplished, she imparts wisdom to colleagues and students alike, motivating them to constantly do better, and she makes no small plans.”

The Wetlands Institute staff, volunteers and Board of Trustees would like to congratulate Lenore on this well-deserved award!

reTURNing the Favor for Horseshoe Crabs

sea-breeze-5-(c)-Laura-ChamberlinThe reTURN the Favor program works to make the beaches of New Jersey safer for the thousands of horseshoe crabs that spawn annually between May and July on the Delaware Bayshore. Many of these crabs die by becoming overturned by wave action, or upon being caught in natural or manmade structures such as jetties or old housing structures.

Because many spawning beaches are closed in the spring to protect shorebirds from disturbance, the program has many restrictions for how, where, and when walks can be conducted. Partner organizations sponsor beaches with high spawning numbers and recruit and train volunteers to conduct rescue walks following program protocols. While rescuing crabs, reTURN the Favor volunteers identify hazards, known as impingements, and tally overturned and impinged crabs.

In the first three seasons, 101 reTURN the Favor volunteer walk leaders have conducted 514 walks and committed 2,061 volunteer hours. This effort has achieved the amazing result of over 70,000 crabs rescued!

The reTURN the Favor program has gained momentum since its founding in 2013. The Steering Committee, comprised of members from The Wetlands Institute, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, collects data, compiles reports, and sets priorities for upcoming projects.

As we have found, this program provides many important benefits beyond the direct rescue of horseshoe crabs. Perhaps the most important result in our three seasons of experience has been the identification and quantification of impingements which trap crabs. Armed with this knowledge, we are now starting to take on fixing these hazards.

Our first pilot project took place this March at East Point Lighthouse. Data collected in 2014 found that hundreds of crabs, representing a majority of crabs at this site, were rescued from manmade impingements. A group of reTURN the Favor volunteers, in collaboration with state agencies and Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, hit the ground to remove rubble and fill gaps in between the structures of an out-of-use boat ramp. This small-scale project had big results – only 10 crabs per walk were rescued this year from manmade impingements, as compared to 77 crabs per walk in 2014. We hope to continue identifying impingement hazards using data collected through the program in order to conduct more on-the-ground restoration projects.

We thank all who have participated in the reTURN the Favor program so far. Continued momentum of this program will allow us to identify other ways in which to help spawning horseshoe crabs in New Jersey. If you would like to participate in next year’s efforts, please contact us!


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