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Town of Barnstable To Host Terrapin Release

Filed in Community, Environment, NEWS HEADLINES by on June 12, 2018 • views: 648

Cape Cod is home to an extensive amount of incredible wildlife, but one of the most mesmerizing creatures in the mix is the Diamondback Terrapin.  This species of turtle is unique in the fact that it is the only one of its kind that inhabits coastal marshes with brackish water; a mix of fresh and salt water. Between the intricate light gray and black spots and the signature diamond shaped pattern on top of the shell, this gentile reptile is a native beauty to behold. Due to habitat loss through coastal development and over-harvesting however, the Terrapin is also a highly threatened species in the state of Massachusetts.

For the last 12 years, the Town of Barnstable has made efforts to help protect the Diamondback Terrapin population, specifically at Sandy Neck Beach. One of the courses of action taken in the name of conservation is the Diamondback Terrapin Headstart program, which aims to ensure the safety of the species starting with the rescue of nests in at risk areas. Many of the females unload their eggs in the Marsh Trail where the probability of being run over or destroyed is high. With this program in full swing, these nests are found and then relocated to safe havens where they can be monitored until the hatchlings emerge. Soon after, the younglings are taken into the care of schools or other organizations where they are raised during the harsh winter season. Once the Cape heats back up for the summer, the Terrapins are then released back into the wild with a much better chance at survival.

Although a step in the right direction, the past decade or so of the program hadn’t obtained the ability to actually see any positive results in relation to the Terrapin population. Luckily, with constant advances in technology and the help of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the beach’s staff will now be integrating “PIT Tagging” into the Headstart program this year.

This “Passive Integrated Transponder Tagging” enables endangered species specialists to oversee the implantation of small tags beneath the surface of each rescued turtle’s skin. This way, if the creatures are ever spotted again after release back into the wild, they can be scanned and identified. The data stored in the PIT tags tells us not only the Terrapin’s physical wellness and progress, but traces their ID number back to where they were raised by their designated caretakers! The tagging practice allows us to monitor these beloved creatures well into the future, and makes it possible to effectively observe Terrapin population trends in the area.

As the month of June progresses, it is just about time to release this year’s rescued turtles back into their natural habitat! The Town of Barnstable is hosting the Terrapin Public Release on Monday, June 25th at 5:30pm at Sandy Neck Beach, and invites everyone in the community to come down and experience this uplifting event.

The Diamondback Terrapin is a magnificent species that still faces several challenges today, but conservation efforts such as the Headstart program undoubtedly make a great difference.

-by Hannah Winter


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