Saving the Turtles

In 2003, there were 40 diamondback terrapin nests on Sandy Neck. Last year, there were 177. One of the keys to helping the turtles is the creative use of plastic milk crates. Researchers place the crates over eggs that mother turtles have buried in the dunes. Called capping, it prevents skunks, raccoons and other scavengers from digging up the eggs.

When the baby turtles hatch, they can squeeze through the crate’s plastic openings and make their way to the marsh. Some are collected for a Head Start program. The animals are raised by students and eventually released into the marsh. Unlike sea turtles, which migrate, diamondback terrapins stay close to where they were hatched.

“The kids and adults get really invested in Sandy Neck because their turtle is out here,” says Sandy Neck Park Manager Nina Coleman. “That program has been wildly successful. I like to say that our terrapins are ambassadors. Not everybody likes a plover, but everybody likes a turtle.”

—Bill O’Neill

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