Thursday, July 8, 2010

Turtle Power - Diamondback Terrapin Conservation Project @Jamaica Bay...

Visitors at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge may have noticed a few individuals walking around sometimes with t-shirts emblazoned with the picture of a Diamondback Terrapin on the back, along with lettering on the front that identified them as Terrapin Research Volunteers. These folks are the unsung heroes who are out at Jamaica Bay in the rain or 100 + degree heat waves. They are part of a Terrapin Research program spearheaded by Dr. Russell Burke, an associate professor of Biology at Hofstra University.  Apparently, Jamaica Bay and Sandy Hook are the only two major nesting sites that are known within the Gateway environs for Diamondback Terrapins
Diamondbacks, are the only turtles that live in the ocean, except for the much larger sea turtles. Adult female terrapins have shells 6-9 inches (15-23 cm) long, while males reach only 4-5 ½ inches (10-14 cm) long.  Terrapins primarily feed on invertebrates such as mollusks and crustaceans. The research being done at Jamaica Bay covers several aspects. In conversation with one volunteer, Ceaser, I learned that his work involves studying how the temperature from the cages used to protect nests affects the sexual makeup of hatchlings. The hotter the nest the more female turtles are likely; whereas, the cooler the nest the chances of more males are higher. Ceaser, can often be seen out in the field busy searching and relocating nests and is in his second year as a volunteer researcher.
 Another volunteer researcher, Alex, has been doing her research for over 3 years. Her work involves gathering data on the existing Terrapin population in order, to get an idea on the growth or demise of the Diamondback. Yet another research volunteer, Neil, uses pit tags to track and record the movement of Terrapins in the area. So, if you are out at the refuge and see any of the volunteers, feel free to ask them about the program, they would be more than happy to share what they know.  We need more people like them who are passionate about what they do.  Who knows, maybe after speaking with them, you'll want to become a Terrapin Research Volunteer too.
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