The diamondback terrapin subpopulation in this stretch of Pleasant Bay is one of the most endangered in the state. Terrapins nest in sandy areas, with hatching occurring in the late summer/ early fall. The small terrapin hatchlings hide out in marshy areas and likely go into hibernation in the winter, often burying themselves in mud. 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, female terrapins return to nest sites and lay another batch of eggs, steadily increasing the size of the terrapin populations within the Pleasant Bay system.
OCT’s 12 acre White’s Lane Conservation Area contains frontage on The River. In 2009, OCT received a large state funded grant in order to restore the natural flora to a meadow habitat, and along with that created multiple terrapin turtle gardens. With the funds from the grant, the land was repopulated with big bluestem grass and wildflowers, creating a large field habitat that is ideal for many types of small mammals, bugs and birds. There are multiple sand turtle gardens close to the two waterfront edges the land sits upon made for the threatened diamondback terrapin turtles. The turtles seemed to enjoy the newly made gardens, and in 2014 there were nearly 60 hatchlings. This is the only site in Orleans where nesting terrapins have consistently been found.
The Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary schedules volunteers to check the gardens both morning and evening during June and July to watch for females laying eggs. Then in the early fall, volunteers check nests for hatchlings, and participate in terrapin releases. If you’re interested in volunteering for terrapin monitoring, contact WBWSVolCoord@massaudubon.org. Also keep an eye out for our hatchling releases in September!