Save the Diamondback Terrapin!

Diamondback terrapin rescued from Chesapeake Bay surf in Virginia Beach

By Mary Reid Barrow 

“The tiny diamondback terrapin scrambled across the sand, hit the chilly water, thought better of it and went to hide out for a while in some marsh grasses at Pleasure House Point.

The baby turtle, not much bigger than a 50-cent piece, was rescued from the Chesapeake Bay surf near Westminster-Canterbury and brought to Lynnhaven River Now’s offices at the Brock Environmental Center at Pleasure House Point.

Pearl Schools Coordinator Jody Ullmann took charge of the youngster and released it in the river’s calmer waters where it could take cover in the protective grasses.

‘Tis the season for baby diamondback turtles, and many are leaving their sandy nests on shore and heading to the water for the first time. Some crawl to the water and do just fine. Others, like this one, may get caught in an outgoing tide and wash out into the bay, not their usual habitat, or get caught by a hungry gull and dropped far from home.

Now is the time, too, when adult female diamondbacks are working hard to find a way to come ashore to lay their eggs. Pleasure House Point is prime nesting habitat, because there is no bulkhead to block the turtles’ access to the beach.

Recently, James D. Finley III rescued an adult female that may have been searching for a place to lay her eggs as she was being tumbled by the ocean at the North End. Finley took the animal that wasn’t moving to the Wildlife Program at the Virginia Beach Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The program’s phone number is 757-263-4762.

The turtle may have been released in the ocean by someone who thought that was where she belonged. Or this spring’s high tides and winds could have carried her off in the wrong direction, like the hatchling. In any event, after several days of recuperation, the female also was released back to the wild.

Beautiful diamondback terrapins, unlike our sea turtles and pond turtles, are the only saltmarsh turtles we have. Their colors and patterns look like they came from a fashion house. With diamond-shaped markings on their backs, they have handsome grayish-white skin with black spots.

The turtles are trying to make a comeback after their numbers were decimated by lovers of terrapin soup, considered a delicacy in the early 1900s. In addition, their nesting habitat is limited now because bulkheads protect so much of the shoreline.

We don’t all have to be rescuers to help these beauties survive. While walking at Pleasure House Point or at First Landing State Park, watch your step down by the water, keep an eye out for moms and babes, and let them do their thing in peace.

Keep your dogs leashed. Free running dogs can be a real menace to a female laying eggs or a baby trying to reach the water. Besides it’s against the law for dogs to be off-leash at both the park and Pleasure House Point, because they menace all wildlife and plant life.

If you have crab pots in the water, be sure to pick up turtle excluders for your pots from the Lynnhaven River Now office. They are free and easy to install.

When you attach excluders to the pot entrances, crabs can still get in, but turtles can’t. Often turtles swim into the pots to eat crabs and bait and get trapped. Since they are air-breathers, they drown.

But the good news is we are starting off the season with two turtles heading home.”

Click on this LINK to see the release of this baby Diamondback Terrapin!

Come by our office to pick up your turtle excluders today (free of charge)!

Brock Environmental Center 3663 Marlin Bay Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23455