From The Cape May County Herald
NORTH WILDWOOD — A group of local volunteers, scientists from a neighboring nonprofit facility and a state legislator have teamed up to try to save some turtles from crossing the road into this city.
“Every year during their nesting season (late May —July), hundreds of adult female diamondback terrapins are killed on roads crossing or adjacent to salt marshes along the New Jersey coast,” said a release from the Wetlands Institute.
Institute volunteers stated that 608 kills were located along 41 miles of roadway in Cape May County this year.
Leaders of the Institute, some concerned residents from North Wildwood and Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1st) held a press conference at the Institute’s Terrapin Station on Thur., Sept. 16 to announce a joint effort to save the little shellbacks.
“Last summer I started to notice more and more turtles dead on the roadway leading into North Wildwood,” said Patrice Dorfmann, a North Wildwood resident who is spearheading the campaign.
Dorfmann said she had noticed that other shore municipalities had installed barrier fencing to keep the turtles from crossing the busy roads. She then approached the Wetlands Institute to see if any fencing was planned for the North Wildwood area.
Experiments conducted by Wetlands Institute scientists have found that fencing is an effective means of preventing nest-seeking female terrapins from wandering onto heavily-trafficked summertime roads and significantly reduces terrapin road kills.
Dorfmann and Nick Plagge, of the North Wildwood Terrapin Rescue, began their turtle-rescue quest by documenting the number of road kills along a three-mile stretch of North Wildwood Boulevard (Route 147) this nesting season.
“We went out every morning and unfortunately, over a six to eight week period, counted 82 kills,” Dorfmann said. “We also saved 10 turtles that could’ve also been hit.”
“The next step is to seek help from the state, because Route 147 is a state highway and requires state approval for the fencing to be installed,” she said.
That’s where Van Drew comes in.
“I plan to meet with the Secretary of Transportation next week to ask him if terrapin-rescue volunteers can install the fencing along the road’s guardrails,” Van Drew said.
Van Drew said this effort was important not just for the turtles’ sake, but also for public safety.
“This is not only a survival issue for the terrapin but a safety issue for the motorists that try to swerve out of the way or get out of their vehicle to assist the terrapin in crossing the street,” Van Drew said. “If something as simple as installing barrier fencing will help save the terrapin in the area and make the roadway safer then that is what we should do.”
According to Van Drew, 75 percent of North Wildwood Boulevard has guardrails, making it optimal for the fence installation. According to the Wetlands Institute, fencing attached to guardrails can be installed by volunteers. A release pointed out that Seventh and eighth grade volunteers from Jordan Road School in Somers Point attached chicken wire to guardrails along 2000 feet of Longport-Somers Point Boulevard.
Dan McLaughlin, an Institute program coordinator, showed terrapins of various ages and sizes — from babies that he called “seagull potato chips” that were rescued from eggs to a full grown adult turtle whose shell was partially crushed by a car tire and later repaired — that had been rescued through the efforts of Wetlands Institute volunteers.
He said the institute could help save terrapins along North Wildwood Boulevard next season.
Van Drew and Dorfmann noted that the main goal of the press conference was to increase public awareness and ask for help from volunteers and sponsors.
“How can you say ‘no’ to these little guys?” asked Plagge, holding a container of the baby turtles.
For more information, visit www.terrapinrescue.org or www.wetlandsinstitute.org. Those interested in volunteer or sponsorship opportunities can also contact Dorfmann at Patricedorfman@aol.com or (610) 574-4823; or McLaughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 368-1211.