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.
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.
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).