The state of New Jersey takes pride in protecting its wildlife. Although New Jersey is home to many different reptile species, one particularly threatened turtle species are the Diamondback Terrapins.
Terrapin Turtles in New Jersey
Terrapins are the only species that has adapted to brackish waters habitats, which can be found in saltwater marshes along the east coast. Over time, Terrapins have been impacted by human activities, including hunting, crab traps, construction, heavily populated areas, and traffic. These activities have led to habitat destruction as well as increased mortality rates.
Every summer season, the turtles begin to migrate to lay their eggs. They build their nests by digging a hole in the ground in which to lay their eggs. Then, they cover the eggs in the nest with dirt or sand. In many cases, turtles will travel very far to find the best place to lay their eggs.
Summer in New Jersey is when the Terrapin turtles specifically become more active, crossing roadways in search of optimal locations to lay their eggs. With the increased traffic and population in New Jersey during this time of year, the combination of the two can be deadly for the Terrapins. As a result, the Diamondback Terrapin population has significantly declined, and they have become a threatened species.
Increasing Safety for Terrapin Turtles
The severe decline of the Terrapin population in southern New Jersey has led to the establishment of a number of programs and increased awareness around the safety of Terrapins. In 1989, the Terrapin Recovery/Conservation Program launched, which was centered around developing innovative techniques to incubate and hatch eggs recovered from roadways.
The Wetlands Institute began collaborating with Stockton University to conduct a Diamondback Terrapin protection project. Each summer, college and university students from all over the United States make the pilgrimage to southern New Jersey to assist the threatened turtle species.
The Department of Environmental Protection also put out a bulletin alerting motorists, residents, travelers, and visitors to drive cautiously on New Jersey’s roadways. Motorists should be on the lookout for any turtle in the roadway, as they are at a greater risk due to their slow movement. Additionally, their primary defense mechanism is their shells, so when they feel threatened, they stop and hide in their shells, making them even more vulnerable to impact.
What You Can Do to Help Terrapin Turtles
If you are driving in New Jersey and notice a turtle in the roadway, here are some things you can do to help:
- Drive with extra caution. Avoid hitting a turtle whenever possible.
- Avoid following the vehicle in front of you too closely to avoid hitting any turtles in the roadway, and to stop safely.
- If you see a turtle in the road, your first reaction may be to slam on the brakes or swerve suddenly to avoid hitting the turtle. However, it’s important to consider the safety of others on the road. Swerving or braking suddenly may cause an accident. If possible, leave the lane you are traveling in, or come to a complete stop in the breakdown lane to assist the turtle in the road.
- Always signal properly or use hazard lights if you choose to pull over.
- Always handle turtles gently if you choose to pick them up. Pick turtles up by the middle of their bodies and at the side of their shells only. Never pick up a turtle by its tail as this can cause injury. Be sure to wash your hands after handling a turtle.
- If you choose to pick up a turtle and move it across the road, be sure to move it in the direction it was headed. Putting a turtle back in the direction it came from will likely cause it to turn around and head for the road way again.
- Avoid disturbing their nesting sites and keep children away from them as often as possible.
It’s important to remember that all native turtles are protected in the state of New Jersey and therefore, it is unlawful to keep a turtle as a pet. All native turtles must be handled by professionals. To learn more about the native turtles in New Jersey, visit here.