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.

For the second consecutive year, the Department of Environmental Protection ended the harvest season for diamondback terrapins earlier than the March 31 deadline.

Once a staple in South Jersey, these turtles have found many new fans in Asia. In 2014, a reported 3,500 diamondback terrapins were taken from two sections of South Jersey and raised in an out-of-state facility. The 3,500 turtles, along with more than 14,000 offspring, were then transported to Asia.

“The diamondback terrapin has long been special to many people who live in or and visit our coastal communities,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a news release. “Many people have dedicated countless hours to protecting its habitats and raising awareness about this unique species. We need to ensure the terrapin remains part of our coastal ecosystem.”

In March 2015, Martin signed a similar administrative order after the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council and the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee reported that the turtles were being taken in excess in New Jersey. The harvest season begins Nov. 1.

Terrapins decreased dramatically by the 1930s, due primarily to harvesting for food. Their numbers started increasing again by the 1960s, but the terrapin has become at risk again due to habitat loss, drowning in crab traps, and being hit by vehicles.

Conservation officers from the Division of Fish and Wildlife will now be on the lookout for anyone illegally taking the diamondback terrapins. Anyone caught illegally taking the turtles will be fined $200 per turtle, the DEP said.

“As evidenced by our recommendation to DEP, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council fully supports the extended closure of the diamondback terrapin harvest as we continue to establish future regulations,” Council acting Chairman Dick Herb said in the release.

While the diamondback turtles are not listed as endangered or threatened, they are considered decreasing. The DEP said it will investigate ways to better manage the turtles in the future.

Contact: 609-272-7260

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