For the last 12 years, the Town of Barnstable has worked hard to help protect the Diamondback Terrapin population at Sandy Neck Beach. The Diamondback Terrapin is a threatened species in the state of Massachusetts. It has been significantly impacted by both habitat loss and overharvesting throughout history.
While efforts are now in place to protect the Terrapin, it still faces many issues to this day. One of the conservation efforts in place at Sandy Neck is the Diamondback Terrapin Headstart program. Each year, a small number of nesting female terrapins deposit their eggs directly in the Marsh Trail, an area still used by some property owners to access their cottages. While these nests would otherwise be run over and destroyed, endangered species monitors are able to find these nests and relocate them to a safe location where they will be monitored until they hatch.
The hatchlings from these nests are then distributed out to schools and other organizations where they will be taken care of and raised throughout the winter. Upon release in early summer, these “headstart” Terrapins are about the size of a 3-year-old turtle in the wild, and their chance of survival is significantly higher.
While it is likely that the headstart program is having a positive impact on the Terrapin population, there has been no way to quantify these observations solely through population trends. Fortunately, through the help of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Sandy Neck staff was able to begin “PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) Tagging” headstart Terrapins this year.
Each Terrapin is implanted with a small tag just under the skin of the rear leg. These tags do not require any batteries or maintenance, and will presumably stay with the animal for life. While these animal cannot be “actively” tracked through this tag, if they are seen again in the wild they can be scanned to see if there is a PIT tag inside of them. Much like a microchip for pets, these tags contain a unique ID code which will allow us to determine what year they were raised and even what classroom they were raised in. Along with additional data taken including measurements and weights, we can see how well these turtles are doing after transitioning in the wild even years into the future, should we encounter them again!
We are extremely excited to continue to expand conservation efforts for the Terrapin population here at Sandy Neck, and look forward to incorporating a mark and recapture study in the future through the use of these wonderful devices.
A reminder that the Town of Barnstable’s Public Terrapin Release will be held on Monday, June 25th 2018 at 5:30pm at Sandy Neck Beach. All members of the public are invited to join us as we say our last goodbyes to a few Terrapins that were raised over the winter. We will talk more in-depth about terrapin anatomy and conservation and watch as these majestic animals make their way back into the wild in order to live out the rest of their lives!