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/.
Director of Communications
404.624.2812 – office
404.309.2238 – cell
Public Relations and Communications Specialist
404.624.5980 – office
About Zoo Atlanta
A proud accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the gold standard for animal care and welfare, Zoo Atlanta has a mission to save wildlife and their habitats through conservation, research, education and engaging experiences. The Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals representing more than 200 species from around the world, many of them endangered or critically endangered. Highlights include giant pandas, including Ya Lun and Xi Lun, the only giant panda twins in the U.S.; one of North America’s largest zoological populations of great apes; and a global center of excellence for the care and study of reptiles and amphibians. Recent transformations include Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, home to more than 70 species in the world’s first LEED Gold-certified reptile and amphibian complex. Experiences include behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters with African lions, Aldabra giant tortoises, giant pandas and lemurs. Zoo Atlanta is open year-round with the exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Keeper Talks, interactive wildlife presentations, education programs and special events run year-round. For more information, visit zooatlanta.org.
NOW OPEN: the all-new African Savanna, featuring new and expanded habitats for African elephants, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, warthogs and meerkats. The African Savanna is part of the Zoo’s landmark Grand New View transformation. Future elements include Savanna Hall, a state-of-the-art special event destination, and a new grand entry plaza, opening in early 2020. For more on the Zoo’s mission and conservation programs and partnerships, visit zooatlanta.org/conservation or download the 2018 conservation report, Beyond the Zoo.