Saving Terrapins, One Acre at a Time

Diamondback Terrapin courtesy of TurtleJournal.com

Diamondback Terrapin courtesy of TurtleJournal.com

Great news! We received word yesterday that the Town of Eastham has recorded the Conservation Restriction (CR) that will be co-held by Mass Audubon and our local land trust partner—the Eastham Conservation Foundation—to protect Terrapin Cove in Eastham.

CRs are tools for conservation organizations to protect land when owning it is not possible, by permanently restricting its use. This CR enables Mass Audubon to continue to manage this land for terrapin nesting, and play a role in ensuring that the property remains in conservation use forever!  Terrapin Cove is a hugely important area “discovered” by Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary volunteer extraordinaire, Bill Allan.  Bill was a storyteller at last year’s Giving Thanks for the Land event.

Below is the story of Terrapin Cove, which appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Connections

Sometimes it’s not the number of acres, but what’s happening on the acres, that makes a project important for land conservation. Terrapin Cove on Cape Cod is a prime example. Located at the edge of Eastham’s Herring (Bee’s) River salt marsh, this 1.6-acre site has become a critical nesting spot for a threatened turtle species, the diamondback terrapin. We’re happy to report that the land will now be protected in perpetuity.

A Species Under Pressure

Nearly 15 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a diamondback terrapin in Eastham. These turtles face a host of challenges. Uniquely adapted to salt marsh conditions, they have lost much of their habitat in recent decades due to waterfront development. Roads often bisect the remaining land. Predators such as raccoons, bolstered by food from residential trash, are also threats.

A Turtle Nursery

In 2003, a resident and Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary volunteer made an exciting discovery at what we now call Terrapin Cove: four nesting terrapins and eight nests. In conjunction with the landowner, Wellfleet Bay staff and passionate volunteers began managing the property and protecting the nests with wire cages called exclosures. The result: 3,000-plus baby terrapins have hatched, representing more than half of all known hatchlings produced in the Herring River marsh area.

Baby Terrapin courtesy of TurtleJournal.com

Baby Terrapin courtesy of TurtleJournal.com

Partners in Protection

Earlier this year, Terrapin Cove’s future was in jeopardy: the landowners needed to sell. They graciously agreed to a bargain sale for conservation. Mass Audubon partnered with the town of Eastham, the Eastham Conservation Foundation, and The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts to raise the funds. Town residents strengthened these efforts by voting for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. Donations from generous individuals put us over the top.

Protection of this small spot is a huge win for turtles. It allows us to keep working on restoring the local terrapin population, giving these creatures a fighting chance for survival.