Help save nesting terrapins in NJ by building roadside barriers
🐢 Volunteers are needed to install and repair barriers in Margate to protect terrapins
🐢 From May to July, female terrapins cross the roads looking for nesting spots
🐢 Many are hit by cars, so the barriers are meant to keep them from crossing.
MARGATE — It’s that time of year to save as many terrapins as possible at the Jersey Shore.
The Margate Terrapin Rescue Project is gearing up for its 9th Annual Roadside Barrier Installation/Repair Day on Saturday, May 6.
What is a diamondback terrapin?
Diamondback terrapins are a special type of turtle. Not all turtles are terrapins but all terrapins are turtles, said Kimberly Wiech, executive director of The Margate Terrapin Rescue Project.
Terrapins are only found in brackish waters where the salt and the freshwaters mix, which is generally in the back bay areas of New Jersey, she said.
Why are terrapins and other turtles crossing the roads?
It’s mostly female terrapins who are coming up on the land looking for the best nesting spots. They are looking for a place to lay their eggs that is above the high-tide mark, which is generally in a sandy area, Wiech said.
The terrapins are generally on a one-track mindset. So, if they are determined to go across the roadway because they believe that’s where the best nesting spots are, they are going to cross the road.
Terrapin nesting season usually lasts from May until the mid to end of July.
“So, about every year, we see anywhere from 60 to 100 fatalities along just The Margate Causeway. That’s just one roadway of many that go through the salt marsh areas up and down the New Jersey coast,” Wiech said.
How does the Roadside Barrier Installation/Repair Day help protect them?
Wiech said the project focuses on protecting diamondback terrapins as they cross the roads in salt marsh areas.
This project and this day are focused on installing and repairing roadside barriers along The Margate Causeway, that help prevent the turtles from crossing the roadways, and a lot of time being hit by cars and other vehicles, she said.
What does the day entail?
Volunteers will meet at 8 a.m. on May 6 at the maintenance yard along The Margate Causeway, just before the tolls. There is a gravel area where people can park their cars. Volunteers must have a vehicle because they will drive to each section that needs repair and/or installation. They cannot walk/bike over the toll bridge.
They will be digging trenches to reset the barriers. They will be connecting barriers that have broken apart, and putting stakes on some of the whole tubings so they stay close to the ground.
Also, kids (recommended 8 years and older) are welcome to help clean up the roadside and marshes and even help dig the trenches or move the barriers around.
Wiech said there is a job and a task for everyone, but be prepared to work.
The whole project should take about four hours to complete.
What should volunteers bring with them?
Volunteers should wear bright clothing, long sleeves, long pants, old shoes, and gloves. Bring bug spray. Please bring your own tools if you have them. These include shovels, trench shovels, wire cutters, rakes, cordless drills with a Phillips drill bit, mallet, and/or hammer.
Be sure to label all your tools with your name and phone number.
Drinks and light snacks will be provided to help fuel your work.
What do the barriers actually do once they are completed?
The barriers physically stop the terrapins from crossing the roadways and potentially getting hit by vehicles.
The barriers that are used are called “split tubing,” Wiech explained, which are 10-inch HDPE piping that is split in half and trenched into the ground so that the terrapins cannot climb over it or dig underneath it. It’s kind of like a two-fold approach at stopping them from crossing, she said.
What should you do if you see a terrapin in the road?
When it’s safe enough to do so, Wiech suggested pulling over to the side of the road. Then pick up the terrapin and put it in the direction it was heading and not where it came from. If you do that, the turtle or terrapin is only going to turn around and head back in the same direction. Remember, they have a one-track mind when it comes to finding the perfect nesting spot, she said.
Lift the turtle from the back of the shell and never by the tail or you can hold a hind leg, support the tummy, and help it cross safely.
“If you’re on the Margate Causeway and there are barriers, you can put it on the other side of the barrier in the direction it was heading,” Wiech said.
Does the project help save terrapin lives in NJ?
Yes. The Margate Terrapin Rescue Project has been collecting data since 1995. Wiech said over the years, the number of fatalities has been trending downwards.
“What’s also nice is that number of saves and rescues have also been increasing. Even though we install these barriers, they’re not foolproof. They do get disconnected and some of the terrapins are smart and get around them,” Wiech said.
She added that she hopes the weather is nice for May 6. Many volunteers are still needed to help dig trenches, move barriers, fasten them together, install fencing along the guardrails, and get the nearly two miles of vulnerable terrapin crossing areas protected.
Volunteers can sign up on the website. Everyone will be required to sign an electronic waiver (including kids) before volunteering. That link can be found here.
Let’s help save the terrapins and turtles!
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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