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Terrapin Conservation Success Stories

North Carolina's Terrapin Tally

The Terrapin Tally, a citizen science project led by the NC Coastal Reserve and NC Wildlife Resources Commission, has collected head-count data around Masonboro Island Reserve since 2014. The goal of the project is to identify terrapin hot spots that may be important for further study and management. Using head-count surveys has proven to be an effective method of rapid-assessment of terrapin relative abundance. A recent amendment to the Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan allows the NC Division of Marine Fisheries to designate areas of high terrapin abundance as Diamondback Terrapin Management Areas (DTMAs), requiring bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) to be used on blue crab pots within these designated areas. Data from the Terrapin Tally was used to inform one of the first two pilot DTMAs, Masonboro Island DTMA. With continued annual surveys and expanded geographic coverage of the Terrapin Tally, we hope the data will be used to designate future DTMAs in North Carolina.

After a brief hiatus in 2020, the Terrapin Tally was expanded in 2021 to 10 new sites in addition to Masonboro Island, extending the project to 6 counties and a total of 39 mapped kayak routes. Several new partners were added to the project for coordinating terrapin head-count surveys and over 200 volunteers were trained in 2021.


Photo credit: Terrapin Tally

NC Terrapin Tally 2.JPG

Photo credit: Terrapin Tally

Jekyll Island Authority Georgia Sea Turtle Center

The Downing Musgrove Causeway (DMC) connects Jekyll Island to mainland Georgia and provides nesting habitat for diamondback terrapins. However, road mortality, nest predation, and to a potential lesser extent crabbing-pressures are contributing to expected population decline. The Jekyll Island Authority Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) and collaborators have been monitoring the diamondback terrapin population since 2007. The GSTC road surveys are performed primarily around diurnal high tides and begin in mid-April and extend until August. For the 2022 nesting season, they encountered 393 diamondback terrapins, of which 72% were alive and uninjured. Of those, 384 diamondback terrapins were nesting females. In addition to road surveys, the GSTC extracts eggs from deceased gravid terrapins and induces injured female terrapins to lay their eggs. Eggs are then incubated, and a sample of animals are head-started for approximately nine months.


GA Sea Turtle Center Terps.JPG
GA Sea Turtle Center Terps 2.JPG

From the 2022 season, the GSTC incubated 203 eggs and 155 have hatched as of late August. They encountered five nesting females that were previously incubated, hatched and released as part of their head-start efforts. They continue to use a variety of management tools to protect and promote the longevity of diamondback terrapin populations around Jekyll Island, GA.

Photo credit: the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Photo credit: the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

The Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project

The Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project is a citizen group founded in 2002 and currently supported by 15 volunteers. The project started with terrapin nests that were rescued from the local golf course being incubated in flowerpots on a founding member’s porch. In 2010, Skidaway Audubon adopted the program. Over its 13 years of activity, the Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project has protected and reared ~3,400 terrapin nests to the release of a ~23,000 terrapin hatchlings. They have saved 88% of terrapin eggs that prior to the efforts of these individuals were almost all destroyed by predators or golf course maintenance. In addition, the program has hosted more than 200 events attended by more than 4,000 people, and the program has been embraced so positively by the entire community that in 2020 The Landings Club renamed the “Plantation Golf Course” to “Terrapin Point” in honor of the turtles and the efforts of its residents to conserve these turtles.


Beyond their local efforts within their community, the Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project has partnered with the Coastal Conservation Group on the island to do numerous presentations to the families who attend their 'kids fishing events', hosted a number of exchange students and their families, conducted special events for the Landings Club employees and their families, participated in UGA's Marine Science Fairs and summer camps, led special programs for special needs children, done presentations to a number of groups on and off the island such as Kiwanis, PEO Groups, and the Rotary, and published articles to inform residents of the status of the project and the dates for the 'Hatchling Happenings'. The group worked with Mary Landers from The Savannah Morning News to publish several articles on the project, they worked with Chris Steigelman, a Landings course superintendent, to write an article about terrapin conservation for the Georgia Golf Course publication. The Skidaway group has also engaged with researchers and conservation biologists around the region to leverage their efforts in support of terrapin science.

Photo courtesy of the Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project

Photo credit: John Maerz

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