Little Egg Harbor — There are often more northern diamondback terrapins than cars on the road along the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area, according to Ben Wurst, habitat program manager for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. And, he pointed out, “their ultimate survival depends on the ability of adult females to safely access nesting areas during summer months.” To help give females a better chance to successfully reproduce, CWF has partnered with the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife to create a half-acre “turtle garden” at a former marina, called Rands Boats, in the area.
At the end of November, about 300 feet of split rail fence was installed to protect the site from vehicles. Approximately 3,000 tons of sand are set to be added to a portion of an old parking lot, currently unsuitable for terrapins to nest. “The sand will be stabilized with coir logs – a coconut fiber log – and native plants, such as dune grass, seaside goldenrod, bayberry, beach plum and groundsel tree,” Wurst explained. “Pollinators, like the monarch butterfly, will benefit from the flowering plants as well.”
As Wurst noted, “Northern diamondback terrapins are a coast-hugging, saltmarsh-living, shellfish-eating, aquatic turtle.” Major threats to their survival include habitat loss, illegal trapping, drowning in crab traps and road mortality. “Each year, hundreds of terrapins are killed by motor vehicles throughout their range, and here in New Jersey, Great Bay Boulevard is no exception,” the foundation states. Since 2010, CWF has worked to document and reduce roadkills of terrapins on roads in Southern Ocean and northern Atlantic counties.
The new restoration site on Great Bay Boulevard will be monitored by CWF volunteers and biologists throughout the terrapin breeding season. In addition, remote cameras will be installed to help monitor the site and prevent poaching.
“We believe that the creation of nesting habitat for female terrapins is critical to their longterm survival,” said Wurst. “As coastal areas are more frequently flooded over time, terrapins will lose many of their historic nesting areas. With very high levels of site fidelity and small home ranges, it is important to enhance habitat for them to nest.
“In addition, the creation of this site will drastically help improve the chances of the survival of young terrapins through direct monitoring and protection of nests by volunteers.”
A portion of the funding for this project was supplied by Forked River Power LLC through a N.J. Department of Environmental Protection Supplemental Environmental Project, obtained by CWF this year.
Learn more about Conserve Wildlife Foundation at conservewildlifenj.org.