Originally reported in the 2-24-11 issue of the Middle Township Gazette.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Middle Township Committee members have approved a resolution supporting terrapin barrier fencing along North Wildwood Boulevard.

“This is a dedicated group of people. It seems we should do whatever we can to stop the turtles from crossing and being, well, smashed,” said Committeeman Dan Lockwood at a recent committee meeting.

“There is a certain amount of red tape, because it is a state road,” said Lockwood. “But, we are hopeful that we will be getting close by March.”

Deputy Mayor Nate Doughty commented that the turtle crossing also present a safety hazard to drivers.

“People try to avoid them. It is a potentially dangerous situation,” said Doughty.

Mayor Susan DeLanzo was absent from the meeting, so the resolution passed with Doughty and Lockwood’s support.

The diamondback terrapin’s nesting season begins in late May and extends through early August. During the nesting season, adult female terrapins search for locations to lay their eggs – usually eight to 12 – and, as sand dunes adjacent to salt marshes have disappeared, rely on the shoulders of roads that link the barrier islands to the mainland. The females usually lay a “clutch” of eggs twice during nesting season.

The Wetlands Institute reported that fencing installed along Stone Harbor Boulevard has reduced turtle terrapin road deaths by nearly 84 percent, compared to its peak. The turtle barriers leading into Stone Harbor had necessary opening for building entrances and exits. Fencing along Avalon Boulevard runs in a continuous line, with no openings, which means no turtles can get through in that roadway.

The Institute’s 2010 annual report on the Terrapin Education and Conservation Project recorded 608 female terrapin road kills last year; 799 eggs rescued from terrapins killed on the roads; 309 hatchlings from the rescued eggs; and, ultimately 148 “head-started” terrapins released. The group works with Stockton University to hatch the rescued eggs in a laboratory setting and allow the “hatchlings” to mature for 10 to 11 months before release to the salt marches.

The group recorded 366 terrapins rescued from heavily trafficked roads, like North Wildwood Boulevard, last year.

All of the turtles run over are adult females looking for a nesting location above the high tide line. “…[T]errapins are deliberately trying to find high ground to lay their eggs and are not simply attempting to get from one part of the marsh to another,” according to Wetlands Institute materials.

Terrapins have long life spans, thought to exceed 30 to 35 years, and, ordinarily, a female can reproduce annually for two decades. The diamondback terrapin lives in coastal salt marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, from Massachusetts to Texas. Scientists have identified 270 different types of turtles, but diamondbacks are the only ones exclusively adapted to life in brackish water.

According to the resolution, the North Wildwood Terrapin Rescue and Stone Harbor’s Wetlands Institute are collaborating with government and volunteer groups to raise money for the fencing. “…[T]hese community based projects should reduce the number of nesting female terrapins killed on North Wildwood Boulevard, make our roads safer for driving, encourage citizen science, strengthen the local community and create awareness about local wildlife conservation issues,” stated the resolution.

The committee will forward a copy of the resolution to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, and Assemblymen Matt Milam and Nelson Albano.