Abstracts of Papers
Presented by Wetlands Institute staff at the
The Turtle Survival Alliance’s 5th Annual Symposium on
Conservation and Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises
Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia, July 28, 2007

Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin)
in Southern New Jersey, USA: Community-based
Conservation for a Stressed Turtle Population

Ilene Eberly and Roger Wood

The Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard, Stone Harbor, NJ 08247, USA

Emily Jack-Scott, 2007 Student Researcher, prepares local kindergardner for a terrapin release.
For more than a century, human activities have adversely impacted the lives of diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin), whose range is restricted to coastal salt marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Nowhere within the range of this species have these impacts been more severe than along the coast of southern New Jersey. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, overhunting of terrapins throughout much of their range drastically reduced their numbers. Subsequently, natural nesting habitat (sand dunes on barrier beach islands) has been virtually eliminated along the New Jersey coast. Large numbers of terrapins drown in crab traps in New Jersey’s coastal waters (and elsewhere). Substantial numbers of nesting females also get killed every year by motor vehicles. Research and conservation programs at the Wetlands Institute have led to the development of a simple, inexpensive and effective terrapin excluder device for use on crab traps. Barrier fences have been installed along miles of roads to prevent nesting females from wandering into traffic and becoming roadkills. Frequent road patrols during the nesting season remove hundreds of terrapins from harm’s way before they are crushed by motor vehicles. Potentially viable eggs are removed from road-killed females, incubated, and hatched. These hatchlings are then head-started and released. Efforts are currently under way to create suitable new nesting habitat for terrapins. Public support of and participation in terrapin conservation activities has been essential to the success of our conservation efforts. We have partnered with The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, the Philadelphia Zoo, state agencies, local municipalities, as well as school teachers and their students to create regulations, develop public exhibits and education programs, carry out research and conservation activities, and enhance public awareness of the plight of terrapins.

Ecology and Behavior of the Mangrove Terrapin
(Malaclemys terrapin rhizophorarum)
in Key West National Wildlife Refuge, FL (USA)

Roger Wood and Daniel Hernandez

The Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard, Stone Harbor, NJ 08247, USA
and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, NJ, 08240, USA

Mangrove Terrapin

Mangrove terrapin hiding in the mud and
under mangrove roots on Barracuda Key, Florida
Mangrove terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin rhizophorarum) have by far the smallest range of any of the seven described subspecies of diamondback terrapin. This subspecies was first described by H.W. Fowler in 1906 on the basis of a single adult female discovered on the island of Boca Grande (now part of Key West National Wildlife Refuge) in the southwesternmost Florida Keys. No further scientific studies were undertaken until the early 1980’s, when a comprehensive survey of islands in the lower Florida Keys provided the first reliable information about the distribution and abundance of mangrove terrapins. Hundreds of terrapins were marked during the surveys of the early 1980’s, especially at the eastern end of Barracouta Key, which supports the densest population in the lower Keys. Field work has since continued on an intermittent basis. The region took a direct hit from Hurricane Georges in 1998, and then again by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005. For the past three years, a team from the Wetlands Institute has returned to Key West National Wildlife Refuge to revisit all the islands where terrapins had previously been discovered. Hurricane damage has been severe on the islands (Barracouta and Boca Grande) where the greatest numbers of mangrove terrapins have been found. Nonetheless, the population of mangrove terrapins in the lower Keys does not appear to have been significantly altered since the early 1980’s. Terrapins originally marked then have continued to be recovered, thus establishing the best longevity data for any population of diamondback terrapins rangewide.

Tracking Northern Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin)
in a Southern New Jersey Salt Marsh Using Sonic Telemetry

Jacob R. Owens1 and Roger C. Wood1,2

1The Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Blvd, Stone Harbor, NJ, 08247, USA
2The Richard Stockton College of NJ, PO Box 195, Pomona, NJ, 08240, USA

Jake Owens, 2007 Research Assistant, installs a sonic telemetry receiver that will record the movements of terrapins with attached transmitters in that creek.
Except for information about nesting activities, relatively little is known about the behavior or ecology of wild populations of northern diamondback terrapins. Diamondback terrapins are a cryptic species. Only females are seen on land during the early summer nesting season. Males never emerge onto land. What these turtles spend most of their time doing out in their salt marsh habitat is largely unknown. In order to gain more knowledge about their detailed movements, a sonic telemetry program was initiated at the Wetlands Institute during the summer of 2005. So far more than 40 female diamondback terrapins found in the vicinity of the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ, have been equipped with mobile transmitters (Vemco V9-2L-R04K coded pingers) and released back into the salt marsh. Nine stationary receivers (Vemco VR2), strategically placed throughout the marsh, pick up signals sent by the terrapin transmitters, allowing us to record their movements. Results so far show that there is considerable individual variation in the movements of different terrapins.

Preliminary Results of Radio Telemetry to Analyze Movement Patterns of
Mangrove Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin rhizophorarum)
in Key West National Wildlife Refuge, FL (USA)

Daniel Hernandez and Roger Wood

The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, NJ, 08240, USA
and the Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard, Stone Harbor, NJ 08247, USA

Daniel Hernandez holds a radio antenna to locate mangrove terrapins with attached transmitters in the Florida Keys.
We conducted a pilot radio telemetry study using eight adult female mangrove terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin rhizophorarum) on Barracouta Key in Key West National Wildlife Refuge, FL, from 9 March 2007 to 15 March 2007. Additionally, we collected spatial data using GPS from other recaptured mangrove terrapins not fitted with transmitters. Data obtained from this study suggest that mangrove terrapins can move significant distances from day to day (and even within a single day) throughout the island interior. We relocated mangrove terrapins in both red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) fringing the island and black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) forests in the interior of the island. It has generally been thought that mangrove terrapins do not move much while in island interiors and that black mangrove forests are their preferred habitat. Our initial findings do not support those assumptions. Our data suggest that mangrove terrapins may travel between the island’s edge and its interior on a regular basis. Our results indicate that mangrove terrapins may seek shelter in the forested interiors of islands and feed in the waters surrounding the island.

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