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Hatchling diamondback terrapins arrive

Annual “terrapin swap” is part of an effort to protect a Georgia native species.

The 25 hatchling diamondback terrapins now exploring a tidal creek habitat at Zoo Atlanta are part of a vital effort to raise awareness of and mitigate the threats facing a Georgia native species. Just weeks old, the hatchlings arrived in Atlanta on August 21, 2018, 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. In receiving the new hatchlings, Zoo Atlanta also transferred 24 diamondback terrapins brought to the Zoo in 2017 back to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which will prepare them for release in the wild. The Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation 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 terrapins are reared at the Zoo for around a year until they are large enough to present less of a target for predators.

“We’re proud to support the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in the important work they do to educate the public and offset the threats to the diamondback terrapin, which is a natural treasure of our state,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “An important facet of conservation is the ability to address the challenges wild animals are facing in their natural habitats now. Our visitors can see, appreciate, and learn more about these young terrapins here at the Zoo with the knowledge that they are part of a much broader effort to protect a species of Georgia’s own backyard.”

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 on the coast of Georgia, the species was driven nearly to extinction by overharvesting for turtle soup in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Diamondback terrapin numbers have been able to recover from those declines, but highway mortality continues to be the turtles’ primary threat, along with habitat alteration and drownings in crab pots.

“We’re pleased to partner with Zoo Atlanta on this educational exchange,” said Dr. Terry Norton, Georgia Sea Turtle Center Director and veterinarian. “It’s great to share the coastal ecology story with those who might not get to see it in person.”

The new terrapins can now be seen in the Georgia Tidal Creek in Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience. Their shells are numbered with nontoxic paint for identification.

Visit here for more on conservation programs and partnerships at Zoo Atlanta, and click here for more on the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

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