What we do on road patrols

One of the first things that we, the summer interns, learned at the Wetlands Institute was the 40-mile (64 km) road patrol route because one of the things that we would be doing five times daily is to go on the 40-mile road patrol :D

For those who are familiar with Cape May County, our road patrol route includes Stone Harbor, Avalon, Avalon Boulevard, Sea Isle Boulevard, Sea Isle City, back to Avalon Boulevard and finally Stone Harbor Boulevard.

You see, the diamondback terrapins live on salt marshes and the females need to lay their eggs on higher grounds so that when the tide comes in, their eggs would not be inundated. And often times, they end up on roads and the parkway (highways) and they would be crushed by the on-coming traffic. It has been found that the terrapin has a 0% chance of crossing the road by herself without being hit.

So during our road patrols, we make frequent stops whenever we see a dead terrapin on the road. We will check the terrapin carcass for an existing microchip, and then we will check to see if she has eggs in her oviduct. We will then attempt to measure her carapace and/or plastron, if it’s not too badly broken.

Besides processing the dead terrapin, we will also record the time she was spotted, the weather condition and tide and the GPS reading of the location.

A roadkill

If there are still eggs in the terrapin carcass, we will bring her back to the Wetlands Institute, and we will surgically remove the eggs and incubate them artificially (in an incubator). We label all the salvaged eggs so that we will have an idea which eggs belong to which terrapin.

And if we spotted a female terrapin attempting to cross the road, we will help her by taking her across the road, to the direction that she was heading. And each time we help a terrapin cross the road, we record that as a “save”.

The diamondback terrapin nesting season sort of began on June 1st (that was when we found our first roadkill), and to date, we have recorded a total of 454 roadkills. And the bad news is that the nesting season has yet to end. Hence, it is indeed very heart-warming to see individual families and communities put up signages that caution drivers to slow down (or brake) for the turtles. The following two signages are seen on Landis Avenue.

"Please drive slow for turtles"

"Help me cross the road"

If more people were aware of the plight of the turtles and were willing to do something about it, we would not be losing so many of them.

More pictures taken during road patrols here (some are gory).

What’s at the Wetlands Institute?

The Wetlands Institute is the primary experience for Asian scholars from the Asian Scholarship Program for in-situ Chelonian Conservation (ASPin-situCC). Since the inception of the Asian Scholarship Program in 2000, a total of 16 scholars have been brought to the Wetlands Institute to experience the hands-on terrapin conservation work (I am scholar #16).

Wetlands Institute

The Wetlands Institute focuses on 2 major aspects of the conservation of the diamondback terrapins and other endangered animals in the area — Research and Education. Various research projects are being conducted by the researchers — assessment of the impact of human activities on diamondback terrapins and ways to reduce those impacts, the innovative use of dredged materials and disposal sites to reduce diamondback terrapin mortality, conservation of shorebirds and horseshoe crabs of Delaware Bay, incubation of least tern nests, etc.

Diamondback terrapin hatchlings

On the other hand, members of the public who visit the Wetlands Institute will be taken on a guided tour of the marsh and the trail behind the institute. And before the summer began, school groups were also taken to the beach to learn about beach ecology (water temperature, wind speed, salinity) and to the trail to learn about salt marsh ecology.

Terrapin on trail

There is also an Outreach component under Education, and the Educator basically takes students out on a boat and teaches them about the kinds of fish/organisms that they catch. The Educator is also solely in charge of exhibitions, touch tanks (for kids to touch the animals and learn about them) and any other outreach-related stuff.

Diamondback terrapin

This is a diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin. It is believed to be the only turtle that survives in brackish water areas and it is named for the diamond pattern on its carapace. Adult females are usually bigger than the males because the females need to carry eggs in them. The females lay an average of 8 – 12 eggs in a clutch, and they typically lay only one nest in the 6-week-long nesting season, though some terrapins have been documented to lay more than once in the season.

Memorial Day @ Stone Harbor

From Southern California, I flew across the United States to Philadelphia where I was picked up and drove to the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, where I will be for the next 10 weeks. I took 2 days to do some grocery shopping, catch up on my sleep and to settle down before the internship began.

May 26th was Memorial Day, so together with 3 other interns from the Wetlands Institute, we walked to Stone Harbor to watch a Memorial Day parade. It wasn’t a very big parade in the sense that not many people participated in it but I would say that it was sufficient. I mean, the veterans participated in the parade, the police, the Fire Company, the local schools. In other words, those who were supposed to be there, were there :D

Memorial_Day_008

When the parade ended, we followed the crowd, and attended the “Memorial Day service” by the beach. The Star-Spangled Banner was raised and the national anthem was sung. The Borough of Stone Harbor and some other VIPs gave speeches and honour was also given to Sean, a young army who had just returned from Afghanistan after 15 months.

Memorial_Day_045

When the ceremony was over, everybody walked to the beach to watch the flower bouquets being placed into the Atlantic Ocean by the coast guards. It was a gesture to honour soldiers who have died in the wars.

Memorial_Day_081

Personally, I think Memorial Day is a very good day to honour all past armies (veterans) as well as current ones. I am not a US citizen, but I was touched by the ceremony. We may have a similar celebration (Hari Perajurit) to Memorial Day in Malaysia, but I am sure it is not very widely celebrated because I have never attended one before.

More pictures of the Memorial Day celebration here.

Up next: What’s at the Wetlands Institute?