Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling Release

On Saturday, September 7, OCT members gathered at the White’s Lane Conservation Area to release northern diamondback terrapin hatchlings into the marshland along Henson’s Cove. White’s Lane is home to the Bob Prescott Turtle Gardens: human-made sandy areas designed to promote nesting of the threatened terrapins. Bob, past OCT president and director of the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (WBWS) was on hand as usual to preside over the hatchling release. WBWS manages a program to protect terrapin nests and hatchlings with the aim of restoring the species’ population. With the help of WBWS volunteers, a record 13 nests were protected here this season.

Once abundant in salt marshes from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, the diamondback terrapin was prized for turtle soup and hunted to near-extinction before becoming a state-listed protected species. Terrapin eggs and hatchlings have many predators—foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and a host of bird species. During the 60-to-90-day gestation of the vulnerable eggs, volunteers surround the nests with protective cages. Once the hatchlings emerge, they are collected from the enclosures, and when deemed viable for release they are carefully “planted” in the tall grass surrounding the marsh. Perhaps as little as 1 to 2 percent of all hatchlings survive to adulthood—so anything we can do to raise this number is important to the species’ recovery.

The “planting” at White’s Lane drew a big crowd. Attendees could hold the tiny terrapins in their hands, and Bob showed everyone how to gently place them in the marshland, spread over a wide area. The name of the game, as he noted, is getting as many hatchlings as possible into the wild, so releasing 18 was a great success. As the hatchling season came to an end in late September, we learned that a record total of 160 baby turtles were released at White’s Lane this year. The nesting habitat there is especially critical because it is safely distant from roads and traffic. OCT is proud to be part of this restoration effort and thanks our members for their interest in this threatened species.

– Jamie Demas