Last year at this time, we were excited about one small handful of hatchlings that emerged from one Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) nest, knowing that most of these turtles either fail to hatch, or don’t ever reach the estuary. This year, we are pleased to report that two nests were successfully protected, and dependent upon viability of a few eggs, yielded approximately 25 terrapins! With luck, these endangered young turtles will find their way to the estuary, and thrive in the Slocum River for years to come.
We found one nest at the far end of the spit near the inlet to the lagoon on June 23rd with 19 eggs, most of which were hatching the first week in October. A second nest was found June 27th, closer to the public beach near a footpath from the parking lot with 14 eggs. That nest was moved to the safe seclusion of the plover refuge to incubate only feet from the first nest. This second nest was also hatching during the first week in October. On October 6th, hatching was well underway for both clutches with numerous turtles out of the egg and others clawing their way out of the leathery shells. On that day, the nests had incubated for 97 and 101 days respectively.
On the average, most terrapin nests at Demarest Lloyd are found during the last week in June into the first week in July, and under average weather conditions, will incubate for 90-100 days. Knowing these trends, we can plan surveys, efficiently protect nests, and prepare for hatchling emergence, which has like clockwork occurred in early October. Weather patterns during the approximate 1-2 week hatching period help determine whether the turtles will make a run for the salt marsh and estuary, or remain under the cold sand until and through the winter.
Turtles emerged from both the open bay and Giles Creek (including a terrapin false nesting on the lawn) this season, with the sand spit that is protected for plovers at the mouth of the Slocum probably the most critical nesting habitat on the site. However, potential nesting locations exist in various locations. Continued sightings near Giles Creek indicate the importance of this small shallow tributary to the terrapins, and the salt marsh and forest buffer zone around it that might serve to protect nesting turtles. Clearly, management must include education for all stakeholders with interests in the park so that beachgoers continue respecting the turtles, and the park is managed with the species in mind.
This season, detection of nesting females included marking the 22nd turtle for the Slocum River/Demarest Lloyd population, with the other four turtles (including the nesters) being recaptures from prior years. We can therefore rejoice that many terrapins are routinely breeding in the estuary and nesting on the beach, but there are still others to discover and mark for this growing science project. Stay tuned till next October, when it will again be terrapin time!