Hundreds of baby turtles saved from Jersey Shore storm drains

Hundreds of diamondback terrapin hatchlings that spent the winter hiding from the cold in subterranean nests only to end up stuck in storm drains along the Jersey Shore are now in the good hands of wildlife experts.

Volunteers rescued 826 tiny turtles from drains in Margate, Ventnor, and Ocean City and turned them over to Stockton University's Head Start program, according to a Facebook post.

"Eggs laid later in the year hatch out underground and spend the winter in the nest chamber surviving off their yolk sac," John Rokita, the assistant supervisor of Academic Lab Services, said in a university news post. Then when spring weather wakes up the terrapins, they emerge from their nests and face a dangerous journey across roads in search of coastal marshes and bays.

The university said two volunteers, Marlene Galdi and Joanne Freas, regularly look for terrapins crossing the street in Ocean City in Cape May County to help them get over the curb. But the hatchlings are also small enough to slip through the grates of storm drains.

"As we passed the storm drains, we noticed that there was activity in them," Galdi said. "When we looked closer, we saw that there were baby terrapins swimming in the storm drains."

Galdi and Freas then attached a telescopic aquarium net to a bamboo pole and were able to scoop the turtles out of the drains.

Water from those storm drains does eventually flow into the bay but the drains aren't a safe place for the turtles, according to the university.

"A good percentage of the terrapins that do come from storm drains have eye infections," Rokita said. "They haven't been in the cleanest water because everything runs into the storm drains.

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Another volunteer, Evelyn Kidd, an alum of the university, has been rescuing turtles for several years, Stockton said. She and some kids in her neighborhood rescued stranded hatchlings from drains in Margate and Ventnor in Atlantic County.

"Hatchlings spend about a year at Stockton under optimum growing conditions to give them a head start prior to being released back into the wild," Stockton wrote in the post. "A head-started terrapin is 2-3 times larger than a wild terrapin of the same age."

Stockton University's vivarium is fully booked for the season so if you find any terrapins, please don't bring them there. Instead, here are Rokita's tips:

  • Place the turtle in a shallow container of room-temperature water up to the top of its shell. Put a flat rock or half of a clamshell in the container so the turtle can climb out of the water if it needs to.
  • Set the container somewhere protected so that the turtle doesn't become a snack for a bird.
  • If the hatchling appears healthy and uninjured, you can release it at dusk into either a tidal creek or a bay area, preferably with good hiding spots.

You should also report any sightings of diamondback terrapins to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, which will use the information to help protect the species.

Diamondback terrapins live in brackish water (a mix of saltwater and freshwater) and salt marshes all along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Florida and along the Gulf coast, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They eat mostly clams, snails, and mussels but also may eat fish, worms, insects, and crabs.

This article was produced from New York City with The Associated Press.