Hatchling diamondback terrapins arrive
Effort supports work to protect a treasure of the Georgia coast.
For the next year, a tidal creek habitat at Zoo Atlanta will be home to 25 hatchling diamondback terrapins as part of an effort to raise awareness of and mitigate the threats facing a Georgia native species that was almost lost to extinction. The hatchlings arrived in Atlanta on August 22, 2019, from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a department of the Jekyll Island Authority.
The terrapins are at Zoo Atlanta through the Zoo’s support of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program. The program focuses on a roadside management plan to reduce terrapin mortality on Georgia’s causeways and elsewhere with the goal of reducing the unsustainable impact of highway mortality on the diamondback terrapin population. Zoo Atlanta supports the program by rearing terrapins hatched from females killed or injured by automobiles.
The hatchlings will live in the Zoo’s Georgia Tidal Creek in Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience until they are large enough to present less of a target for predators. In receiving the new hatchlings, Zoo Atlanta also transferred 25 diamondback terrapins brought to the Zoo in 2018 back to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which will prepare them for release into the wild.
Support of the Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program is an example of one of the roles Zoo Atlanta plays in conservation, that of offsetting the threats to wild animal populations and their ecosystems by helping to address real-world challenges for animals, plants and their wild environments. The Zoo’s Conservation Strategic Action Plan, finalized in 2017, focuses on five primary goals through which Zoo Atlanta will make a demonstrable, meaningful impact on conservation by committing resources, both financial and professional; leading and supporting conservation initiatives based on science; educating and empowering people to take conservation action; amplifying the Zoo’s conservation impact through collaboration; and developing, enhancing, and expanding Zoo Atlanta’s sustainability programs and practices.
“We’re proud to mark another year of support for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the vital work they do to educate the public about the threats facing diamondback terrapins and to engage people directly in their conservation,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Deputy Director. “At the same time, our visitors have the chance to appreciate this species while knowing that the terrapins they see here at the Zoo are part of a broader effort that connects Atlanta to the coast.”
Found only along the eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States, from Cape Cod south to the Florida Keys and west to Texas, the diamondback terrapin is the only turtle species in North America that inhabits brackish water. Once numerous along Georgia’s coast, the species was driven nearly to extinction by overharvesting for turtle soup in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The wild population has been able to recover from those declines, but highway mortality remains the turtles’ primary threat, along with habitat alteration and drownings in crab pots.
“We’re always excited by any opportunity to help spread the word about coastal ecology and are pleased to once again partner with Zoo Atlanta in this educational exchange,” said Dr. Terry Norton, Georgia Sea Turtle Center director and veterinarian. “Zoo Atlanta is a fantastic host to our terrapin hatchlings, assisting to spread the word about the work of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and Jekyll Island conservation efforts to visitors around the state and beyond.”
Visitors may now see the terrapins, which are not much larger than a quarter in diameter, exploring their new environment at Scaly Slimy Spectacular. Their shells are numbered with nontoxic paint for identification.
For more on conservation programs and partnerships at Zoo Atlanta, visit zooatlanta.org/conservation or download the 2018 conservation report, Beyond the Zoo. For more on the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, visit https://gstc.jekyllisland.com/.