The Wetlands Institute sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by salt marsh as far as the eye can see. Shore birds, horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins call these wetlands home and live mostly in peace with the surrounding beach community. From late May to July, female diamondback terrapins emerge from the salt marsh in search for a site to lay their eggs. There is but one road which leads past The Wetlands Institute toward the popular Southern New Jersey beach town known as Stone Harbor. In the summer, right when the diamondback terrapins are emerging, thousands of people use the road to get to and from the beach community.
Despite the signs warning of turtles crossing, each year hundreds of diamondback terrapins are struck by cars. For the past 20 years, The Wetlands Institute staff, interns and volunteers conduct road patrols to collect terrapins who have been hit. Often, even if the mother has been killed, the Institute can surgically retrieve and incubate the eggs in their lab to save them. For species conservation, The Wetlands Institute incubates the unhatched eggs at a temperature which increases the chance of female hatchlings.
In the summer of 2015, The Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) gave The Wetlands Institute a grant to help with this life saving program. 514 eggs from 387 diamondback terrapins killed were collected. These terrapins hatched and are being raised in captivity for a year to help them reach a larger than normal size, thus giving them a better chance at survival when released.
Additionally, 67 injured terrapins suffering from fractured shells and jaws, abrasions and tissue damage were saved along the roadside. Of those 67, 23 have been successfully released back into the wild. The remainder, except for 7 who will continue their rehabilitation at the Institute for a longer period of time, were too injured to successfully treat.
The Wetlands Institute keeps a log of where turtles have been collected. When the turtles are released back into the salt marsh, they are also tagged and monitored. This accumulated data helps the Institute determine where the terrapins congregate so barrier fences can be erected to help keep them safe.
Lisa, Director of Research and Conservation for The Wetlands Institute, wrote ISF, “Out of all the terrapins we successfully treated in 2015, one in particular stands out as an example of a terrapin’s resilience and ability to heal. This terrapin had been hit by a car and had multiple deep fractures in its carapace as well as a large portion missing from its shell. Despite the severity of her injuries, she was treated by our vet, who noted that he was not confident of a positive outcome. He did his best to treat her, using epoxy and wire mesh to cover the gap in the shell and returned her to us for recovery. We held the turtle for several weeks of care. Before long she was active, eating, and ready for release thanks to our vet’s amazing work. Once again we were impressed by the resilience of diamondback terrapins to seemingly fatal injuries, and our vet’s ability to treat them.”
ISF’s mission is to collaborate with people and projects to positively impact the planet and its creatures. A staff member with The Wetlands Institute wrote ISF, “With additional supplies acquired through this grant, we were able to provide better care to more terrapins in our facility this season.” Thanks to The Wetlands Institutes lifesaving program and research, the diamondback terrapin will continue to live in Southern New Jersey.
Written by Veronica Hampton
Edited by Bob Stone
All picture Credits to The Wetlands Institute