We are all familiar with the old adage “Build it and they will come”. Well, the multi-year effort of long hours and heavy labor restoring and maintaining the habitat, along with dedicated volunteerism at White’s Lane is paying off. The 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 Tuesday, September 9th OCT hosted its fourth Diamondback Terrapin release, drawing 15 volunteers and community members alike. While introducing the project, Bob Prescott, OCT Trustee and Executive Director of the MA Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said that before the original restoration in 2008, Diamondback Terrapin turtles (Maclemys terrapin) which are a state-listed threatened species, 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, and so far this year, MA Audubon and OCT volunteers have protected 3 nests and found an additional 4 “wild” nest sites 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 turtles. 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.
With mixed emotions (excitement, and sadness to see them go) each attendee was handed his/her own terrapin to release. 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. So now what?
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.
MA Audubon and OCT’s small band of volunteers are always looking for like-minded individuals who’d like to join our ranks next season for another chance to learn more about these magnificent creatures and assist with the conservation programs to increase their numbers. Come and join us! For more information call Kris Ramsay at 508-255-0183 or e-mail Kramsay@OrleansConservationTrust.org.