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Terrapin Nesting Sanctuary

Nests for Success

Terrapin Nesting Sanctuary

Nests for Success is a collaboration between The Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Ocean City Recreation and Parks, Assateague Island State Park, Chesapeake Bay Trust, MCBP, and MCBP Chesapeake Conservation Corps (corps) member Maddie Talnagi. These nesting sanctuaries were designed and installed by Maddie as her capstone project for her corps year with the MCBP program.

Terrapin Nesting Sanctuaries

Terrapin nesting sanctuaries aim to provide a protected space for terrapins to safely nest. Both sanctuaries consist of 22 tons of sand and marsh vegetation, that has been strategically shaped into a shallow mound with gentle slopes to replicate the terrapin’s natural nesting habitat. The goal of this project is to encourage terrapins to nest in the sanctuary rather than the developed and unsuitable surrounding areas.

All About Terrapins

The Northern Diamondback Terrapin is an awe-inducing species of turtle native to brackish tidal marshes of the eastern United States. Diamondback Terrapins are the only species of turtle in the world which reside exclusively in brackish water. They are medium-sized and can vary in length from 4 to 5.5” in males to 6 to 9” in females. They are named for the distinctive diamond shaped pattern on their shell. In addition to their iconic carapace, Terrapins have unique black speckles across their gray skin and strong webbed back feet which aid them in swimming.

 History and Current Threats

Northern Diamondback terrapins have a storied history in the Maryland Coastal Bays. The terrapin’s name is even derived from an Algonquin word meaning neither salt nor freshwater. In the early 20th century, terrapins were considered a delicacy in soups and stews and were hunted to near extinction. Regulations of terrapin harvesting in the mid-20th century increased population rates, but unfortunately populations have still never fully recovered. Today, their numbers continue to decline due to habitat loss through coastal development. Motorboat propellers have been responsible for inflicting serious wounds to terrapins while many also become trapped and drown in submerged crab and lobster pots. During their nesting season, many females are killed as they attempt to cross coastal roads in search of nesting areas.

Terrapin Nesting

Terrapins endure a tumultuous journey when it comes to nesting. Terrapins nest between May and June each year; during this time, females come up onto land and dig shallow nests in the sand to lay their eggs. A terrapin’s clutch size varies between 5-8 eggs on average. Terrapins display high site fidelity, meaning they return to the same location each year to lay their eggs. Sex of the terrapins is dependent on the temperature of the sand in which the eggs are laid. It has been found that cooler sand results in more males while warmer sand results in more females. Diamondback terrapin nests face several threats including predation by skunks, raccoons, and foxes. Hatchlings face even more threats upon emerging from their nests, as young hatchlings are often eaten by gulls, crows, and herons.

If you are interested in installing a terrapin nesting sanctuary on your property, please contact Katherine Phillips at: kphillips@mdcoastalbays.org.

Contribute Online

Become a member of the Coastal Bays Foundation and donate online securely through PayPal. Your financial contribution will go toward protecting our watershed, its habitat, and wildlife. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit; all donations are tax deductible.