Terrapin Crossing
Diamond-back terrapin turtles are salt-water marsh turtles that lay their eggs on high ground adjacent to the marshes from May to July. Unfortunately the high ground is usually the causeways leading into the barrier islands, meaning the turtles are crossing the roadways at the peak of tourist season, with many of them being hit by passing vehicles. Turtle researchers from the Wetlands Institute on Stone Harbor Boulevard in Middle Township, are on patrol this time of year mending barrier fences and rescuing turtles before they are hit on the roads.

The state Assembly passed a bill to ban hunting, catching and taking diamondback terrapins in New Jersey.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblymen Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land, both D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, would designate the turtles as a nongame indigenous species and therefore illegal to hunt or catch. Instead, the state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner would be required to determine the terrapin’s state population and development a plan to protect it.

“Diamondbacks are unique to New Jersey and play a significant role in our coastal ecosystem,” Andrzejczak said in a statement. “The diamondback terrapin is threatened by loss of habitat, road mortality and increased demand from food markets overseas that has intensified its harvest. This bill would help protect our diamondbacks from going down the road toward extinction.”

Diamondback terrapins live along the Atlantic coast and Delaware Bay. State officials have ended the harvest season for the turtles several months early for the last two years due to rapidly declining numbers of the species.

Although they are not a popular food item in New Jersey, the turtles have been harvested and exported to Asian markets in high numbers. Another reason for the declining numbers is the high rate at which the turtles get hit by cars while crossing the road.

When the state ended the harvesting season in January, it also warned that anyone caught taking a diamondback terrapin would be subject to a $200 fine per turtle.

The bill unanimously passed the Assembly and now heads to the state Senate for a vote.

Contact: 609-272-7260

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