One of Long Island’s more iconic coastal species is the Diamondback Terrapin, the only turtle in the world that inhabits brackish water habitats such as salt marshes, tidal creeks, and shallow bays and harbors. Individual terrapins can be seen with their heads bobbing at the water surface, basking in the sun on mud banks, and, most excitedly, occasionally encountered when a female comes ashore seeking a nesting site to lays her eggs.
On Long Island, historically, terrapin populations faced a number of threats including direct human harvest for food, and destruction of coastal nest-laying habitat (take a look at an aerial photograph of southern Nassau County and/or southwestern Suffolk County and the widespread destruction and alteration of habitats is plainly evident). Fortunately, collecting terrapins for food has been made illegal but they still face a myriad of other threats that jeopardize their long-term survival here such as motor vehicle and boat collisions.
To address these threats and address other basic aspects of terrapin ecology, Seatuck and other groups and individuals have formed the Long Island Diamondback Terrapin Working Group, which first met in 2018.
The Working group held its second meeting on January 23, 2019, at Seatuck’s office at the Suffolk County Environmental Center. The meeting included:
1. Updates from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) staff on
- Enforcement efforts regarding compliance by crabbers who use “Chesapeake style” non-collapsible crab pots, to make sure their vents are fitted with terrapin excluder devices (TEDS)
- Number of TEDS that NYSDEC has distributed to commercial crabbers. (To defray the impacts to crabbers, Seatuck and the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy each purchased several thousand TEDS that were distributed to commercial crabbers through the NYSDEC). The TEDS are rectangular-shaped devices that are 1 3/4 inches high by 4 3/4 inches wide and are secured to the vents of the pots; studies in other states have documented as much as a 70-80% reduction in terrapin deaths by drowning through the use of TEDS, an outcome expected here. Through a departmental regulation, TEDS became mandatory in 2018 in NY coastal waters for all crab pots placed in creek and river mouths and in shallow coastal embayments such as Stony Brook and Mt. Sinai Harbors.
2. An update from NYS Department of Transportation staff on their dune construction project planned at Gilgo Beach. The dune is being constructed as part of the department’s efforts to mitigate environmental impacts from the construction of the bike path extending from Jones Beach State Park to Robert Moses State Park. It is hoped that the dune and the fencing around it will offer suitable nesting habitat for terrapins emerging from the bay to lay their eggs, thereby preventing them from continuing south into harms way on the Ocean Parkway where terrapins can easily be killed.
3. An update from Seatuck on the development of a computer/phone application whereby interested observers can document the presence and location of diamond-backed terrapins by inputting the information into the application. This application should be ready shortly; toensure accurate identification a photograph should accompany each submission. It’s hoped that broad public participation will allow us to get a much clearer picture of the turtle’s distribution along Long Island’s coast.
4. An update from researchers from Hofstra University, the NY City Parks Department, and Friends of Flax Pond regarding ongoing research and nesting results from the 2018 field season.