We Brake for Terrapins; The Poachers In Our Midst - The SandPaper

2022-06-16 08:22:06 By : Ms. Lydia S.

The Newsmagazine of Long Beach Island and Southern Ocean County

By Jay Mann | on June 15, 2022

It’s that time of year when we rally to save/assist egg-laying diamondback terrapins, which qualify as “lady terps” – for all you University of Maryland alumni.

Our seasonal effort to save these happy-faced reptiles is one of the finest displays of creature compassion anywhere, a genuine eelgrass-roots endeavor to protect and restore a species we almost ate into oblivion.

The folks heading up the terrapin repopulation efforts are doggedly dedicated but can’t reach their lofty goal of achieving a back-in-the-day terrapin count without the help of everyday folks – who must train eyes on the many up-ahead roadways that these marine turtles must cross to reach nesting territory.

The terrapin’s drive to particular nesting grounds is genetic to the nth degree. It is so naturally ingrained that reaching the pre-programmed land is an overwhelming compulsion, even when said lands have been built upon or dissected by roadways, the whole overdevelopment shebang.

Highly active swimmers, terrapins spend most of their lives in the water, overwintering by burrowing themselves in the bottom mud of bays and estuaries. Any trips ashore are for quick basking sessions and, for the females, annual – and daunting – terra firma sojourns into what must be a frighteningly uninviting out-there realm.

A quick herptile name note: There is an overlap when it comes to differentiating assorted reptiles of a turtle persuasion. Those living in the sea, pretty much nonstop, short of egg-laying, are technically sea turtles.

Turtles that are primarily aquatic and prefer bay and brackish waters are dubbed terrapins, to the exclusion of the term turtle. Calling diamondbacks “turtles” annoys them to no end, leading some to scratch in their nesting ground, “Not turtle eggs! Terrapin eggs!”

Closer to reptilian reality, terrapins are not sea turtles, which causes them some survival angst. Sea turtles are emphatically protected under our nation’s Endangered Species Act. Despite their dedicated marine life, terrapins fall through the ESA cracks, thus their ongoing need for protection of, by, and for the people. Face it, they are our charges.

The final distinctive turtle type includes those of a fully terrestrial nature, often going by the cool title tortoise. It’s a nomenclature mystery why our totally tortoise-ish box turtle never got that cooler name tag. In overall slowness and massive longevity, box turtles can go one-on-one with any tortoise. What’s more, they have been documented to live over 100 years. How far beyond the century mark is anyone’s guess. One engraved turtle – carving dates and initials in the shells of box turtles was once a very common practice – bore the letters “W.W.” and the date 1861. Another had “J.B.M.” carved into its carapace, with an accompanying date of 1881. Ring counts on those still-kickin’ turtles confirmed they were at least as old as the hills. Odds are they live so long due to no mortgages on their homes.

Timely Sidebar: Be it a box turtle population explosion or simply social media tracking them more closely, it has become a highly active box turtle/tortoise year. I’ve sure noticed that during my jaunt-abouts. I don’t recall ever coming across so many of these mellow beauties in the woods; always a wonderful meet-up.

HANDS OFF TIME: Back to terrapins, I want to make a suggestion that might assist in conserving them, though possibly rustling some turtle feathers (huh?!) in the process. Folks, it is not imperative to always give a road-crossing diamondback a literal helping hand. If a crosser is traversing a roadway (dirt or asphalt) at a nice clip – and these mamas can haul when on a mission – simply stopping your vehicle and allowing a safe passage is the finest, most compassionate help you can give.

Common crossing behavior: A terrapin will momentarily stop, mid-road, upon seeing a nearby vehicle, like your vehicle. She’s possibly thinking “What the hey?!” Traffic allowing, hold steady at a dead stop and allow her to regain her bearings … and resume the mission at hand.

Being just a touch snitty, I’m seeing a tad too many social media reports of good-intentioned folks all but chasing after galloping terrapins, as if it is mandatory to pick them up in some viable show of support. By avoiding hands-on interaction – whenever feasible – saves the preggie mom from going through undue stress – a pick-up trauma that can possibly cause her to ditch proper egg laying protocols. More sensitive (younger?) mama diamondbacks have been known to abort nesting efforts when so traumatized.

But we all know how more traveled streets and roadways can be mean as all get-out, meaning we must get out of our vehicles to manually assist a crossing. Traffic flow makes the difference between patiently stopping to allow safe passage or making a full-blown rescue rush, preventing rubber from meeting more than just the road, said with a grimace.

For a terrapin rescuer, a hurried highway assist can be wrought with dangers of the heaviest metal kind. I’ve personally witnessed rather daring crossing assists on Long Beach Boulevard, LBI. I assist the assisters by going flashers-on as a sign to traffic that something is a-road ahead.

Just this week, a Florida newspaper reported “Woman Run Over By Her SUV When She Reportedly Tried To Save A Turtle.” It was a freak accident but might alert our many terrapin rescuers to make certain they’re in “Park” when exiting a vehicle to affect a rescue.

The news story went on, “A witness said the adult female stopped quickly in the roadway and got out of her SUV to save a turtle on the road. She apparently failed to put the vehicle in park, and it continued forward. The witness said the woman was unable to get out of the way, and the SUV rolled over her while she was in the roadway.”

Mock if you must, but I was once chasing a bluefish blitz, got ahead of the crazed angler pack and jumped out – frantically disengaging the door auto-lock mechanism in the process. I ran into the shallows to cast and glanced back, horrified to find my truck was following me. So, what did I do? What any suddenly insane person would do: I ran up to the rolling, huge-engine truck, put both hands on the hood, and tried to physically stop it. Hey, it’s a man thing, alright? After being driven many feet oceanward, I came to my senses, rushed to the driver’s seat and hit the brakes.

There’s an aspect of terrapin rescuing that might come as a surprise to newer rescuers. Upon being picked up, these panicked reptiles, while not big on biting – though some might chomp a hand within neck reach — will claw the hell out of the hands, wrists and lower arms of those holding them. When grabbed wrong, a terrapin’s flailing legs, with claws particularly sharp for nest building, will rip skin. We’re not talking suture time but something far more painful – for the terrapin! I have seen folks grab the shells wrong, get clawed … and quickly drop their charge! Snark alert: It does not behoove a rescue to bounced off the asphalt. In fact, forget that bounced part. Terrapins don’t bounce.

To learn proper terrapin grasping/holding techniques, I suggest getting tutored by one of the many experienced terrapin-saving folks. And keep up the great terrapin-saving work, all y’all.

TERRAPIN TROUBLEMAKERS: While out and about, actively assisting terrapins, keep a wary eye open for anyone who seems a tad overly zealous about the coming and going of the egg-layers. There have been a couple well-publicized local busts of terrapin poachers. They’re nefarious folks seeking just-laid eggs – to incubate and hatch, before marketing newborns through the irresistibly lucrative wild animal trade. I’m told that poaching remains a very viable threat to the terrapin recovery effort. Emptying nests can remove entire future generations.

Our Fish and Wildlife folks, many of whom I know well, are highly responsive to poaching alerts from the public. Best initial go-to if seeing something fishy involving hunting, fishing, wild creature collecting, and trapping is 1-855-OGT-TIPS (648-8477).

Per New Jersey Operation Game Thief, “Poaching is the illegal taking of wildlife, game, or fish, trespassing while taking wildlife, littering or the employment of any means to gain an unfair advantage over other users of the state’s precious wildlife resources. YOU can make the difference…YOU can help protect New Jersey’s Outdoor Heritage by reporting abuses.”

I’ll re-mention that illegal reptile and amphibian collecting is a larger problem than one might think. I come cross it on a regular basis, though it’s often nothing glaring.

A couple years back, I came across a couple boys with a five-gallon bucket containing three box turtles. I asked them what they were going to do with them. One of them confidently said (gospel truth) “We’re gonna sell ’em.” No, I didn’t read them the Riot Act! Instead, I mentioned in passing that it’s quite illegal to sell or even keep the turtles … and they should be very careful. They immediately got bug-eyed. Paranoia is an amazing deterrent with boys that age. I should know. I only went with, “Look, why not just keep one, guys … and let it go before winter,” – likely introducing them to a life of petty theft.

No other state in the nation has stricter wildlife collecting laws than NJ. There’s virtually no collecting of nongame species, other than bullfrogs and green frogs. Snapping turtles, while an allowable target for harvesting, require a collecting permit – and there are none available.

A while back, an effort was made in Trenton to allow the limited collecting of fence swift lizards due to their abundance. It was shot down like a slow-and-low duck on the first day of hunting season. The legalese is emphatic: “No person shall possess any nongame species or exotic species of any mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian unless such person has first received both the appropriate permit from the Department of Environmental Protection” … and no such permits are available for anything but state-recognized research projects.

There is a highly worrying poaching angle connected to this froggy time of year. It’s the only chance for poachers to gather the threatened/endangered/valuable Pine Barrens tree frog. After mating, the gorgeous frogs climb to the treetops.

With evil collectors out foraging frogs, Fish and Wildlife enforcement folks are doing dark time patrolling in areas known to have Hyla andersonii sounding off. Go get ’em!

“What’s wiggling in that bag, sir?”

“Uh, not Pine Barrens tree frogs. Besides, some guy I never saw before just gave me this bag and, uh, ran off.”

Poachers are often none too brilliant.

VOTE THEM IN: Inappropriately, the Pine Barrens tree frog is merely the unofficial state amphibian. It’s unofficial because efforts to have it officially ratified as “the state amphibian” (2018, state senate bill S2297) haven’t passed muster. Such a Trentonesque endorsement would lead to efforts to better conserve this consummate symbol of Pinelands wildlife. Even though this amphibian has become quite numerous, in worldly terms it remains a rare bird, so to speak. It’s way worthy of an affirmative vote.

Just for the NJ record, here are some other official state symbols:

Tall Ship: The AJ Meerwald.

RUNDOWN: The beachline bassing has dropped off but still offers take-home fish, mainly going for bait – prior and after lifeguard times. Yep, the planks are now being manned. Know what’s permissible when surfcasting.

Boat bassers are nabbing lingering mega-stripers, a least one to well over 40 pounds. Overall, the more torrid hooking is to our north, though resident inshore stripers could be a thing for many weeks to come, trolling-wise. That show of hanger-on bass aligns well with fluke fishermen who quickly hit their bag limits with fishing time left over.

Big bluefish are still flash-diving the beach, here and there but far from everywhere. Artificials seem to be the ticket; the farther casting models covering the most active waters. A steel-leader, plastic-tailed jig managed a north end slammer (released). It was all head but still pushed 15 pounds. High tide is preferable.

Fluking remains fired up, with the bay the better venue. Inlets are surprisingly lacking in flatties. That will change as weather heats up. Remember: 100 degrees for the July 4th weekend.

A very telling email: “Jay, I fully agree that the new regulations are making fluke fishing more fun. As you know I freeze filets up for the winter. With the soaring price of seafood, that really means savings, though I now have to factor in fuel costs.”

I’m feeling out what this fuel cost fiasco might mean for months to come – possibly clear into fall.

Smooth dogs (dogfish) remain highly problematic, messing up many an angling session.

A chef buddy got on me for even hinting that these smooth sand sharks are decent eating. “My cat won’t even eat them,” he said, despite not even owning a cat.  jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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