Thursday, August 16, 2012

Baby turtles begin hatching on South Coast

By Turtle Journal
Wicked Local Wareham

Monday witnessed the first emergence of diamondback terrapin hatchlings on the South Coast of Massachusetts. Sixteen baby turtles were born on a barrier beach in Marion. From the end of May through early July, female terrapins, a threatened species in the state, swam ashore on coastal beaches in estuaries of Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Now, after incubating in eggs beneath the warm summer sand for 10 weeks, the first hatchlings have begun to emerge from the few nests that have avoided depredation. Without a little human kindness and assistance, predation rates for turtle nests soar into the 90 percent range.

Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse, of Turtle Journal, patrolled this barrier beach in Marion where they have documented terrapin nesting and have protected many such nests from predation. Wieber Nourse spotted hatchling tracks in the sand that disappeared into the surrounding salt marsh. Lewis deduced the likely location of the nest from the tracks and gently excavated the area with his fingers. About three inches below the surface he began encountering baby turtles that had “pipped” their eggshells with their prominent egg tooth, but were still a bit too immature to venture safely into the wild. Unfortunately for these remaining hatchlings, 10 of their siblings had left the nest overnight. With the scent that they left behind in their discarded eggshells, they would have set off the dinner bell for a host of predators. These babies would have been devoured in the evening as raccoons, skunks, foxes and other predators conducted their own hatchling patrols of the beach.

With a little help from human guardians, six tiny terrapins were recovered from the nest. They still need a few more days of maturity before they can be safely released into the nursery salt marsh abutting the barrier beach. But their odds of survival have been significantly enhanced as turtle researchers work to restore declining populations of diamondback terrapins in Buzzards Bay estuaries. Terrapins are listed as a threatened species in Massachusetts.

Beyond terrapins on bayside beaches, other turtle hatchlings should be popping up throughout the South Coast within the next few weeks: Eastern box turtles in your yard, painted turtles and snappers in uplands surrounding lakes and ponds, and spotted turtles in wetlands and bogs. Advice from the Turtle Journal Team: Slow down and look down. The life you save may be a baby turtle.

Source: Baby turtles begin hatching on South Coast - Wareham, MA - Wicked Local Wareham

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