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Coastal Adventure

Posted on Sep 3, 2015

The other week I had the opportunity to adventure out to Connecticut and Rhode Island for a week of learning. As you all know, we have a number of projects running in coastal Connecticut monitoring shorebirds and educating the public about the many federally and state listed species that reside there, and we have some wonderful RTPI staff stationed there as well. On my trip I was able to spend some time with Scott Kruitbosch, our Conservation and Outreach Coordinator, looking at several of the sites where projects for shorebirds, migrating raptors and coastal remediation are taking place.

Stratford Point Office

Here’s the Stratford Point office where RTPI and partners from Audubon Connecticut work. Scott and I took a walk along the trails and surrounding shores to get a better view of the many shorebirds that utilize the site as well as the spots where lead-shot from an old shooting range is being removed.

After a building was recently removed from the site, these pretty sunflowers and others were planted and as you can see create a great spot for pollinators!

After a building was recently removed from the site, these pretty sunflowers and others were planted and as you can see create a great spot for pollinators!


As I was walking along the shore taking a closer look at some of the oyster shells and nearby birds, I accidentally scared up a few semipalmated plovers that immediately took flight.

Lighthouse at Stratford Point

My day filled with learning the stories of Stratford Point and several other areas of importance nearby ended with these beautiful skies over the Long Island Sound.

It was an awesome experience to physically be in the sites where much of our work takes place in Connecticut and see some of the ongoing issues, along with the many accomplishments that have been made in the past year. While coastal Connecticut is quite different from the Western New York region that I am used to, it is a beautiful area filled with different but equally important habitats and species.

As my trip continued, I traveled to the Alton Jones Education Center in Rhode Island for the annual NEPARC (Northeastern Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) meetings. For those that aren’t familiar with the not for profit, NEPARC is a regional subset of PARC or Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. This organization forms inclusive partnerships with like-minded professionals and citizens that are dedicated to the conservation of amphibians, reptiles and their respective habitats throughout each region of the United States and beyond. PARC interacts with federal and state agencies along with other organizations and consultants to coordinate efforts to tackle the concerns surrounding amphibian and reptile population declines.

The NEPARC meetings this year were held at the Alton Jones Education Center, owned by the University of Rhode Island, where several conferences and environmental camps are held.

The NEPARC meetings this year were held at the Alton Jones Education Center, owned by the University of Rhode Island, where several conferences and environmental camps are held.

This year’s meeting was filled with several updates on various issues our herptofauna face throughout the northeast, including the threats posed by the commercial snapping turtle harvest, a new strain of chytrid fungus affecting salamanders (in Europe, it has not yet been found in the U.S.), and habitat destruction causing population declines. From Rhode Island in particular, I had the opportunity to learn of the issues encountered by the state endangered Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) and visit the Doug Raynor Wildlife Refuge situated on Hundred Acre Cove where the last population in the state is known.


Diamondback Terrapins are believed to be one of the only turtle species in the world that prefers to live in brackish waters (containing lower salt content than the ocean) in habitats such as coves and estuaries. They are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but are declining throughout their range due to habitat loss.

Through the Rhode Island Diamondback Terrapin Project, partners from the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Natural History Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a number of volunteers conduct surveys looking for other areas where the terrapins may exist and spend countless hours monitoring nesting activity throughout the breeding season. While we visited the wildlife refuge, we had the opportunity to meet several of the dedicated volunteers that check the terrapin nests daily and observe the process used to protect the nests from predation. In this particular area, the terrapins will move from water to land and will climb their way up the hill to reach nice sandy patches to lay their eggs in. Once laid, the females will return to the water leaving their nests to fate. However, in most cases predators get to the nests before the hatchlings have a chance to emerge and make their way to the water. So, in order to reduce the amount of predation, project volunteers will identify new nests and cover them with wire cages in order to provide some added protection.

DT-Nest Cages (2)

This sandy area provides an excellent place for female terrapins to dig nest holes and drop their eggs. On average females lay 8-12 eggs and they take about 60 days to develop. Once identified, volunteers place these nest cages over the nests in order to provide protection from predators such as skunks, raccoons and birds.

DT-Nest Cages

The nest cage is being removed and the little gray circles near the edges are freshly hatched turtles!

DT Nest Boxes

Here is a larger nest cage set-up. As you can see, the doors have locks so that neither humans or raccoons can disturb the nests.

DT Nests

Two nests full of eggs are under safe cover of the cages.

During the time turtles are hatching, the volunteers will check the cages twice a day, remove the babies and put them in water for a short time to prevent desiccation (drying out). Fortunately for us, we visited on a day where several turtles were newly hatched and were ready go. The volunteers made quick work of removing the cages and pulling the turtles out to check on them before they were released.

Newly Hatched Terrapins

Brand new diamondback terrapins are out of their shells and ready to be on the move.

Handful of Terrapins

Not many people can say they’ve held a handful of turtles all at once! Like other turtles, terrapins are no exception to starting out small. These guys are no bigger than an Oreo cookie! As they age they will develop diamond-shaped growth rings on each scute, hence the name diamondback.

Diamondback Terrapin

If you look closely, you can see a light colored triangle jutting out just under the nostril openings. This protuberance is referred to as an egg tooth. Most birds and reptile species are equipped with an egg tooth and it aids the hatchling in breaking out of its shell.


Since it was sunny and about 90° outside, the turtles were plopped in water to prevent them from drying out and were inspected for any deformities or other issues.

Diamondback Terrapin Hatchlings-Sandy

I can’t help but think that if these little turtles could talk they would say, “I’m covered in sand, what are you going to do about it?” These little ones were ready to be released into the grasses where they would be safe from avian predators overhead.

While this was the highlight of the meetings, it was a great experience once again to be able to attend the conference and hear about all the effort being put forth and knowledge being gained so that our region’s herp species may be preserved. While amphibians and reptiles aren’t necessarily the cutest and cuddliest creatures out there, they serve a huge purpose in many ecosystems as both predators and prey, and as indicators of a healthy system. I certainly learned a great deal from listening to many presentations and having a chance to talk to several academics, state biologists and land managers. As we continue our herp work here at RTPI we will work to contribute to the knowledge base of our many imperiled species and attempt to make a positive impact on the amphibian and reptile populations locally and beyond.

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician