Release the Terrapins 2017

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Picture 29 of 29

credit: Don Krohn

White’s Lane Conservation Area at Henson’s Cove serves as an oasis for nesting Northern dimaondback terrapins(Maclemys terrapin), a state-listed threatened species.  The multi-year effort of long hours and heavy labor restoring and maintaining the habitat, along with dedicated  volunteerism is paying off.  Diamondback terrapin females are recognizing the site as a suitable nesting spot and the number of nests has been increasing every year since this project began in 2009.

On September 23rd, OCT hosted its annual terrapin release, drawing 25 OCT members. While introducing the project, Bob Prescott, Executive Director of the MA Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and former OCT President, said that before the original restoration in 2008, diamondback terrapin turtles were reported to be nesting across the river at Lucy’s Point and on the west bank of The River just north of Lucy’s Point.

Knowing this, the Trust set a goal to restore 7 acres of heavily invaded woodland into a sandplain grassland and early succession maritime community. The grassland would have areas suitable for the nesting of diamondback terrapin turtles and access to these potential nesting sites would be in an area free of road crossings. The nest sites would also be in close proximity to salt marsh habitat for potential hatchlings.

Thanks to a State Landowner Incentive Program grant, OCT was able to achieve its goal and the restoration has been deemed a success. Biological diversity and wildlife habitat has been enhanced through intensively managing invasive plants.  So far this year, MA Audubon and OCT volunteers have protected 7 nests with predator enclosure cages and found an additional 7 “wild” nest sites after they hatched, which not recognized at the time in which the eggs were laid by the female terrapin.

With the young turtles getting antsy,  the group decided to make their way down to the water to release the terrapins. Along the way, Bob stopped at a number of the turtle gardens, describing how and when they are maintained, and the benefits of doing so. Bob also described that this site was perfect for the restoration because the saltmarsh and protected cove that surround the property are integral areas for juvenile diamondback terrapins while they are developing and in need of escape cover and protected forage areas.

There were four terrapins from protected nests waiting to be released.  After being passed around to the attendees, the youngest participants brought the terrapins to the edge of the marsh.  Everyone spread out to reduce the risk of predation, leaned over into the dense marsh grass, and in a flash the inch long terrapins were gone. 

Bob said that these small terrapins will likely go into hibernation in the coming month due to dropping temperatures at night. In the coming years the terrapin will eat shrimp, clams, crabs, mussels, and periwinkle snails, helping them grow in size. Maturity in males is reached in 2–3 years at around 4.5 inches in length; it takes longer for females: 6–7 years at a length of around 6.75 inches. While the males never come out of the water, with any luck the female terrapin hatchlings released will return to the restored White’s Lane nest sites and lay another batch of eggs, steadily increasing the size of the terrapin populations within the Pleasant Bay system.

The group then watched as Bob and volunteer Chuck Dow opened a protected nest that had incubated for over 90 days.  Terrapin heads immediately poked out of the soil.  Thankfully, all 13 of the eggs had successfully hatched and the terrapins appeared healthy and alert.  The terrapin babies and egg shards were collected and brought back to the MA Audubon lab in order to be weighed, measured, and observed for any health issues.  They were then released back on site two days later.

OCT is currently fundraising to add additional important habitat to the White’s Lane Conservation Area!  Learn more about this opportunity at http://orleansconservationtrust.org/land-acquisition-opportunity-braddocks-way/