Initiative Aims To Learn More About Diamondback Terrapin

OCEAN CITY — Local residents and visitors to the area are encouraged not to “Fear the Turtle” but help chart their numbers and protect their future with a new Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) initiative to track diamondback terrapin numbers in and around the resort area.

The MCBP is partnering with the Terrapin Work Group, an agency composed of terrapin researchers and manager across the state, on a new initiative to track and count the diamondback terrapin population in and around the coastal bays. The diamondback terrapin is the state’s official reptile and the iconic mascot for the University of Maryland, but little is known about just how many of the creatures live and reproduce in the coastal bays in and around the resort area.

To that end, the MCBP and the Terrapin Work Group are partnering on a new initiative aimed at gaining newfound information about the diamondback turtle population in the coastal bays. Later this month, the agencies will hold the First Annual Diamondback Terrapin Blitz and are seeking volunteers to help with various aspects of the quasi-scientific endeavor.

The Terrapin Blitz will consist of surveys conducted in the coastal bays and their brackish creeks and tributaries in an effort to a gain a better understanding of how many are in the area, when and where they breed and hatch their eggs and how best to protect them from natural and man-made threats. It’s the first such undertaking in the area, according to Sandi Smith, marketing and special events manager for the MCBP.

“We’re going to start tracking our population down here,” she said. “It’s something that hasn’t been done before. We’ve done horseshoe monitoring for years, but we’ve never taken a close look at our diamondback terrapins.”

The blitz, scheduled for May 21-22, will consist of surveys conducted throughout the coastal bays watershed. Crews of trained volunteers will tour the coastal bays via boat, canoe or kayak to seek out diamondback terrapins, record their findings and mark areas where they breed and hatch.

“It’s really a citizen science engagement,” said Smith. “It’s not an entirely scientific process. The diamondback terrapin’s current population status in the coastal bays is poorly understood and we’re counting on the volunteer crews to help us better understand them. At the same time, we’re hoping to increase awareness of their presence in the area.”

While the Diamondback Terrapin Blitz crews will be searching the bays, creeks and streams for terrapins, they might not have to look far to find evidence of their existence in and around the resort area. Just last week a MCBP associate was walking down the Boardwalk around 11 p.m. at night when she encountered a baby Diamondback Terrapin plodding across the historic promenade.

The baby terrapin was pretty far from water in any direction and was walking along the Boardwalk by itself, a pretty remarkable achievement considering where it had likely come from and what it had to do to get where it was.

“One of our associates just found the little guy walking across the Boardwalk in the middle of the night,” said Smith. “We’re not sure how it got up there, but it’s possible a bird got it and dropped it there.”

Smith said MCBP staffers took some pictures of the tiny diamondback before turning it over to a trained and licensed rehabilitator, who will nurture it until it reaches an age and size where it can be safely returned to the wild. She said it was not all that uncommon for young diamondbacks to be found far from the ocean or bay, pointing out a juvenile terrapin was found on the Boardwalk in front of Malibu’s Surf Shop last year.