2011 Annual Report on the Terrapin Education and Conservation Project

Adult female diamondback terrapin
Adult female diamondback terrapin

The Diamondback Terrapin Environmental Education and Conservation Project was started in 1989 in response to serious declines in southern New Jersey’s terrapin population due to increased mortality from road kills, diminished nesting habitat, and drowning in crab traps.  From its inception it has been led by our Director of Conservation and Research, Roger Wood, Ph.D.  Since 2010, he has been assisted by Daniel McLaughlin, Conservation and Research Coordinator.  This year, we welcomed back Research Scientist, Patrick Baker, Ph.D., who offered guidance to the ten undergraduate student researchers helping with the Project.  In addition, on June 26th, The Wetlands Institute hosted the first ever Turtle Fest: A Benefit to Save Diamondback Terrapins.  The event was a huge success and we plan to host another one next year.

 The Project combines the following elements:
  • Hands-on conservation of the local terrapin population.  During terrapin nesting season (late May – mid July), Wetlands Institute researchers and undergraduate student researchers monitor a 38 mile transect of salt marsh road (located within Cape May County, NJ) for nesting female terrapins.  This summer, we drove the transect enough times to cover over 10,000 miles.  The objectives are to record the number of terrapin road mortalities, remove potentially viable eggs from female terrapins run over by vehicles, and save nest-seeking terrapins attempting to cross the road.  The “rescued” eggs are incubated and the resulting hatchlings are grown to yearling size (called “head-starters”).  We use micro-chips (like the ones veterinarians inject into a pet dog or cat) to aid in ongoing terrapin population studies.  The following statistics were gathered from the 2011 diamondback terrapin nesting season.

Total female terrapin roadkills………………………………………………………………..482   

Potentially viable eggs rescued from roadkill terrapins………………………………1065

Emerged hatchlings from rescued eggs……………………………………………………..516  

Terrapins saved from heavily-trafficked roads…………………………………………….273

Number of head-started terrapins released………………………..193 (as of 9/27/11)

Researchers monitor a 38-mile transect (red), located in Cape May County, NJ, for female terrapin road mortalities. Also notice the portions of our transect that have terrapin barrier fence (blue), which prevents female terrapins from attempting to cross a dangerous road.
  • Facilitating terrapin barrier fence projects.  Our research has demonstrated that terrapin barrier fences significantly reduce terrapin road mortalities.  Their widespread use in appropriate locations could save hundreds of terrapins every nesting season.  This summer we helped community groups and local governments from five different municipalities install over two miles of barrier fence.  Collaboration between volunteers, governmental agencies, local businesses, and the Wetlands Institute has resulted in over eight miles of terrapin barrier fences being installed in recent years.  The role the Wetlands Institute plays is to encourage concerned citizens, as well as private and public agencies, to become involved.  Our commitment is to help individuals and organizations with technical advice, offer access to our long-term road kill data, and even provide fence building materials in some cases.  These community-based conservation projects strengthen the local community, encourage citizen science, and make our roads safer for driving.
Barrier fence graph
Terrapin barrier fence was installed along this 0.6 km section of road in 2004. Notice the significant reduction in female terrapin road mortalities after the fence was installed.
Student researchers and volunteers install a new terrapin barrier fence design, corrugated tube (invented by Institute Research Committee member, Dr. John Cuthbert)

Student researchers and volunteers install a new terrapin barrier fence design, corrugated tube, invented by Institute Research Committee member, Dr. John Cuthbert

  • Teaching environmental research–in the field and laboratory–to university students, who participate in the program each summer.  Years of research such as this were instrumental in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s adopting, in 1998, a regulation requiring the use of terrapin excluder devices (pioneered by the Institute) on commercial crab traps.  Maryland and Delaware have since followed New Jersey’s example.
Student researchers remove intact eggs from a roadkilled female terrapin

Student researchers remove intact eggs from a roadkilled female terrapin

  •  Integrating all these activities into teaching K through senior citizens all about terrapins and their habitat, through terrapin release events, our on-site Terrapin Conservation Exhibit, lecture programs; school field trips to the Institute, Outreach programs; the internet; programs to summer campgrounds; and most recently an Institute-prepared brochure entitled “New Jersey’s Diamondback Terrapins” that has been registered with the Conservation Registry and distributed throughout the state.
Student researcher shows local kindergartener a terrapin head-starter.  Later that day, the kindergarteners released twenty one head-starters back into the wild.

Student researcher shows local kindergartener a terrapin head-starter. Later that day, the kindergarteners released twenty one head-starters back into the wild.

Associations and Collaborations:

Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Baysea Veterinary Hospital, Philadelphia Zoo, Asian Scholar Program for Chelonian Conservation, Adventure Aquarium (formerly the New Jersey State Aquarium), School Based Youth Services at Lower Township Regional High School, County of Cape May, Borough of Avalon, Borough of Stone Harbor, Margate Bridge Commission, E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, Sound Waters Nature Center (Stamford, Connecticut), Atlantic City Aquarium, New Jersey Department of Transportation, Strathmere Fishing and Environmental Club, Margate Terrapin Rescue, North Wildwood Terrapin Rescue, Atlantic City High School Junior ROTC, Upper Township Elementary, Sea Isle City School District, Avalon/Stone Harbor combined Kindergarten, Lower Cape May Regional High School, Cape May Technical High School, Jordan Road Elementary School (Somers Point School District), Middle Township School District, Quinton Elementary, Bellmawr Elementary School, Holly Heights Elementary, Millville High School

Brake for turtles signs

An assortment of home-made "Brake for Turtles" signs.

Director of Research, Dr. Roger Wood, shakes hands with Scute the Institute Terrapin

Director of Research, Dr. Roger Wood, shakes hands with Scute the Institute Terrapin

Our most sincere gratitude to all of those who helped with the Terrapin Education and Conservation Project this year!!!


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