Friday, January 19, 2018

Protecting Long Island’s Turtles

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 


turtles 1 

Diamondback terrapins are a turtle species native to Long Island. You can find them wherever there are salt marshes.

Russell Burke, a biology professor at Hofstra University, says diamondback terrapins do not travel as far as other turtle species. Diamondback terrapins live their whole life within a couple of miles of where they hatch, and they spend a lot of time in the water.

turtles 2Diamondback terrapins come onto land in June and July (the most common time for people to spot them) when the females lay eggs in nests. Sometimes they also go to marsh-like islands to bask in the sun.

Diamondback terrapins need the salt marshes of Long Island — it’s where they feed and where they hibernate in the wintertime. So they never wander very far from the salt marshes.

To keep Long Island’s diamondback terrapins safe, we need to make sure salt marshes don’t disappear. There are less than before, and the reasons why are unclear. It may be as simple as how people fertilize their lawns (when it rains, the chemicals used wash off into waterways).

turtles 3Another way to protect turtles is to travel carefully when you see wildlife crossing signs. Turtles are sometimes hit by cars when they are trying to cross the road, especially in June and July, when they spend a lot of time on land.

Another threat to turtles is raccoons. Many of the eggs laid in sand dunes are eaten by raccoons, drawn to the areas by trash people leave behind. You can help keep the turtle eggs safer by throwing away your garbage.

Don’t approach turtles if you see them. If you see them nesting at night, you should stay far away. Dr. Burke says that diamondback terrapins are easily scared off by people, and they will abandon a nest of eggs if we get too close.

 By Melissa R. Walsh


More on turtles   

Melissa R. Walsh: How long does it take for turtle eggs to hatch? 

Dr. Russell Burke: Diamondback terrapins and box turtles are about the same, about 80-90 days. They hatch faster when they are warm. In hotter months they will hatch faster. In a hot summer they will hatch faster. Another thing about eggs is the temperature sex determination. The sex of the hatchling depends on the temperature the egg is incubated at. In the warm summers, they are more likely to make girls. In colder temperatures, it’s more likely to be a boy.

MW: Are there a lot of diamondback terrapins and box turtles?

RB: Regionally, across the northeast, both box turtles and terrapins are in trouble. Their numbers are declining. Both of them are protected by state regulations here in New York.

MW: What should we do if we see a nest? 

RB: Terrapins choose nest places where there’s not a lot of traffic. Terrapins are easily scared off by people. Sometimes they nest right in the middle of a busy area. Once a nest is completed and turtles have finished it or walked away, people can walk near nests and wouldn’t hurt them at all.

MW: What should we do if we see an injured turtle? 

RB: If a turtle is found, it can be given to someone who specializes in turtles. Lorri Cramer is very experienced with terrapins. She is a wildlife rehabilitator. Her email is

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