Dozens of volunteers dug up damaged fencing and deposited new barriers along the Margate causeway Saturday to keep diamondback terrapins from tempting fate on the roadway.
In the next few months the dawdling turtles will emerge from the brackish water surrounding the city’s entranceway to lay their eggs in the soil, a trip that more than 100 never completed in past seasons after being crushed under car tires.
To keep them from unnecessarily crossing the road, locals first installed plastic netting along the shoulder in 2008, but the brittle barricades crumbled under the weight of snow this past winter.
On Saturday, those Tenax fences were replaced with 7,200 feet of plastic tubing, which project organizer Bill Doughty said should be a durable, long-term solution to keeping the turtles safe.
“They’re just not the smartest creatures in the world,” said Doughty, who said the terrapins only cross the road because they are disoriented on land.
The project is one of several started by people working with the Stone Harbor-based Wetlands Institute, which has implemented such barrier fencing projects along Stone Harbor Boulevard and Avalon Boulevard as well.
The work has been shown to reduce turtle road kills significantly, if not entirely, depending on how thoroughly the fences can cover the roadside.
In the case of the Margate causeway, when the turtles hit the cylindrical tubing and find they can’t climb over, they should simply build their nests there and return to the sea safely, Doughty said.
About $10,000 from donations and fundraisers made the all-day project possible, paying mostly for the polyethylene piping from Ohio-based Advanced Drainage Systems that are normally used underground for drainage.
Atlantic City High School and St. Augustine’s Preparatory School students, Boy Scouts and other local helpers dug up the old material, drove wooden stakes crafted by Atlantic County Institute of Technology students into the ground and fastened them to the black, corrugated tubes.
“This stuff’s just not holding up very well,” said Kolby Rundio, 15, of Egg Harbor City, motioning toward the fence’s scattered remains. Rundio was one of about 15 Boy Scouts working from Troop 634 in Galloway Township.
Many of the volunteers removing the broken netting were the same people who installed it in the first place. Scoutmaster Cheryl Rundio recalled that was not a leisurely project.
“There were a lot of dads here that had major sore muscles after that one,” she said.
Students from Atlantic City High School’s Leo Club and Junior Navy ROTC were also shoveling the road shoulders, ripping up the gray plastic.
“Come on, put some muscle into it!” shouted ROTC Commander Susan Wolfe to her cadets across the street, who did their best to stomp their shovels into the tough roadside soil.
Down the road, other ROTC Cadets Andres Martinez, 17, and Erich Fischer, 18, both of Atlantic City, hammered the stakes into deeply drilled holes.
From 8 a.m. until the late afternoon they continued that work, eventually unfurling the stacks of tubing and hooking them to the stakes with zip ties, where they hope they will stay for a long time to come.
“It should last forever,” Doughty said, before hurrying across the road to drill some more holes.
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