Stone Harbor, NJ, November 6, 2014 – The Wetlands Institute is thrilled to announce that Joe Grottola, and Steve and Susan Ahern – part of the Storm Drain Terrapin Rescue Team – have been honored with a Disney Conservation Heroes Award from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF). The award recognizes local citizens for their tireless efforts to save wildlife, protect habitats, and educate communities. There were 19 Conservation Heroes selected from around the globe this year. Recipients were nominated by non-profit environmental organizations, and each honoree and their nominating organization will share a $1,500 award from DWCF.

“I’ve always found great satisfaction working with Diamondback Terrapins as they are such an interesting species,” stated Joe Grottola. “After 25 years I still get excited every time we pull a terrapin hatchling from a storm drain.  Being named a Disney Conservation Hero Award recipient is an honor that can only help to increase awareness of the challenges facing the Diamondback Terrapin. Many local people, even those who’ve lived here for years, don’t realize we have these very unique terrapins living in the saltmarsh.”

In 1990, Joe Grottola, first noticed the issue of diamondback terrapin hatchlings becoming trapped in storm drains and developed a method to retrieve these hatchlings. Joe then involved students and educators from Lower Cape May Regional High School in the rescue, care and release of these threatened creatures. In 2010, Steve and Susan Ahern were trained to join him in this work, expanding the project to other New Jersey barrier islands. These three individuals, along with several others, took action to reduce the potential impacts, working on a volunteer basis to rescue terrapins, raise money for terrapin conservation, and engage other volunteers at The Wetlands Institute and students from local schools each year to rescue terrapin hatchlings from storm drains throughout southern New Jersey.

“Little did we know that rescuing these hatchlings would be such a rewarding experience,” commented Susan and Steve Ahern, who have engaged elementary school students from Sea Isle to help with various projects. “In addition to giving them a second chance, it has given us the opportunity to interact and share information with so many residents living near the salt marsh in Sea Isle City, who do important things every day to protect terrapins in our community. Our efforts have been supported not only by The Wetlands Institute but by our local Environmental Commission, who has partnered with us in several other terrapin protection activities. We are very proud to be part of The Wetlands Institute’s Terrapin Conservation Programs and honored to be recognized by Disney as Conservation Heroes.”

Their efforts have been inspiring, and have attracted numerous volunteers to get involved in this community-based conservation project organized by The Wetlands Institute. To date, the project has rescued over 5,000 terrapins from storm drains and released them back into the marsh.

In addition to their efforts to rescue terrapins trapped in storm drains, the team has contributed extensively to terrapin conservation efforts in their communities and to the continued success of the terrapin conservation program at The Wetlands Institute.

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund focuses on protecting wildlife and connecting kids and families with nature. Since 2004, Disney has honored more than 100 leaders around the world for their extraordinary conservation efforts.

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of 2014 Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit

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About The Wetlands Institute:

The Wetlands Institute is a non-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 and well-being. Visit our website at to find out more about our programs and mission.