Drivers cautioned to watch out for terrapins crossing area roads

Date Published: 
June 10, 2016

Drivers are being urged to use extra caution when traveling Delaware’s coastal highways through June and July. As the summer gets under way, female Diamondback terrapins are crossing Route 1 to lay their eggs in the soft sand of the ocean dunes, and many are killed in the process.

“The dune area along Route 1 in Delaware Seashore State Park is one of the state’s prime terrapin nesting areas,” explained Sally Boswell, education and outreach coordinator for the CIB. “Because female terrapins mature late and have a long reproductive lifespan, the loss of a single female means the loss of many years of potential offspring.”

Boswell said those who come across a turtle attempting to cross the highway should first ensure their own safety, then pick the terrapin up by the sides and place her on the bay side, behind the turtle fencing. Unlike snapping turtles, she said, terrapins are very gentle, although they may squirm and kick their clawed feet. “It is very important not to drop her,” Boswell said.

The diamondback terrapin is listed as a species of concern in Delaware, and for years the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) has installed and repaired fencing along Route 1 to prevent the terrapins from crossing the roadway. But some still manage to find their way through or around the barrier.

Sandy beaches around the Inland Bays also provide nesting areas for terrapins, but in many areas, sandy shorelines have been lost where bulkheads or riprap have been installed to prevent erosion, Boswell noted. As an alternative to bulkheads and riprap, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays recommends installing a “living shoreline.”

That method of shore stabilization preserves natural beauty, and also protects the shoreline from erosion by reducing wave energy, trapping sediment to re-build the shore edge, and providing food, nesting and feeding areas for many birds and marine animals, including the diamondback terrapin.

To learn more about diamondback terrapins, and what can be done to protect them, visit www.inlandbays.org/diamondback-terrapin. To learn more about living shorelines, visit www.inlandbays.org/livingshorelines.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994 to promote the wise use and enhancement of the Inland Bays and its watershed. With its many partners, the CIB works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays, the water that flows into them and the watershed around them.