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 New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Monday proposed regulations to close all harvesting of the Diamondback Terrapins.

The proposal would close the harvest season indefinitely and is coming after officials ended the season early for two years in a row because of the declining numbers of turtles, according to a statement from the DEP.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 6 p.m. on June 13 at the Stafford Township Municipal Building.

In 2013, one harvester took over 3,500 diamondback turtles from two locations in South Jersey using a commercial crabbing dredge. The turtles were sold to an aquaculture facility in Maryland that subsequently raised over 14,000 and sold them to overseas markets.

“That incident was really a wake-up call, making us realize just how vulnerable this species had become,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a statement. “We have plenty of observational and anecdotal evidence that the species has been in decline. We need to take a step back and get a better handle on the measures that will be needed to restore this species.”

Other factors in the decline of the turtles have been from people hitting them with cars as they cross roads, habitat loss, drowning in crab traps and people keeping them as pets.

As part of ending the harvesting season early the past two years, the DEP said in January that anyone caught taking the turtles would receive a $200 fine per-turtle.

In April, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill to ban hunting, catching and taking the diamondback turtles. That bill now awaits a vote from the senate.

Although the turtle is not listed as endangered or threatened by New Jersey, the DEP has been keeping a close eye on the species and is currently assessing its populations, ecological data and habitat needs as it develops a recovery plan.

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