“Crowdsaving” the World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtles

November 2nd, 2015

Cold-Stunned 70-Pound Juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtle Strands on Truro Beach

Summer ends and fall brings dramatic change to the Massachusetts shore. Not just leaf color, but the entire fabric of coastal life transforms from easy summer to rugged winter. Fluffy clouds, cerulean skies and lazy sands are blown away by autumn storms that howl across Cape Cod Bay. Summer ripples swell into monster breakers that reshape beaches and spread ocean wrack along the shoreline. Scattered among piles of seaweed lie sea turtles tossed ashore like flotsam and jetsam to flail helplessly in lethal conditions. Yet, thanks to selfless “crowdsaving” by an army of volunteers who patrol Cape Cod beaches during the worst and most dangerous weather, thousands of sea turtles have been rescued from near death, rehabilitated back to health and returned to the ocean to restore severely endangered populations.

Tiny Loggerhead Hatchling Begins Its Perilous Oceanic Journey That May Detour into Cape Cod Bay

As shadows lengthen and days shorten, conditions recur each fall for sea turtle strandings on Cape Cod. Juvenile sea turtles meander for several years from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the Southern Coast presumably to “sow their wild oats.” First, as hatchlings they float in islands of sargassum and drift northward with the Gulf Stream. Then, as juveniles they swim landward to transition from this pelagic sanctuary to a coastal lifestyle. As turtles reach the Gulf of Maine and fall arrives, dropping water temperatures cue them to migrate south.

Arm of Cape Cod Stretches Thirty Miles into the North Atlantic

The arm of Cape Cod stretches thirty miles into the North Atlantic like a giant seine net and “catches” waves of sea turtles as they migrate southward. Hotter summers yield higher ocean temperatures, and warmer water entices turtles to swim closer to the mainland. Southbound turtles that pass west of the Provincetown “fist” collect inside Cape Cod Bay. At first all is well as easy New England summer lingers into September.

Cold-Stunned Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Strands Helplessly on Wellfleet Beach

Soon, though, a wall of cold Atlantic water forms along Stellwagen Bank to seal turtles inside the bay with no escape route. November arrives and Cape Cod Bay chills, too. When water temperature nears 50° F, sea turtles become cold-stunned and immobilized. They are tossed around the bay by wind and sea like flotsam and jetsam. Their survival now depends on intense fall storms to drive them ashore and dedicated humans to rescue them. The earlier in the season that powerful storms strike, the sooner sea turtles strand on beaches; and the earlier turtles get tossed ashore, the better their odds of survival.

Species of Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles on Cape Cod

The vast majority, 90% or more, of stranded sea turtles on Cape Cod are juvenile Kemp’s ridleys that mostly range in age from two-to-three years old. They are about the size of large dinner plates and hit the scales at around 4 to 8 pounds. Kemp’s ridleys remain one of the most endangered sea turtles in the world.

Juvenile loggerheads make up the next most frequent stranded turtle species. Even though still youngsters, they are massive animals that can range in weight from 25 to 100 pounds. Green sea turtles are the third most common species and can vary in size from only a few pounds to as large as small loggerheads. Occasionally, a hybrid sea turtle strands and even more rarely a hawksbill comes ashore.  Whatever the species, nearly every cold-stunned sea turtle is a juvenile on a once-in-a-lifetime passage through Cape Cod Bay.

Sue Wieber Nourse Rescues Five Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles at Bound Brook Beach

In 2014 a record-breaking 1250 cold-stunned sea turtles washed up on Cape Cod Bay beaches, four times the previous record season. They were rescued by an army of volunteers organized by Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to patrol scores of miles of storm-blasted coastline each high tide, night and day, through November and December. Mountains of banana boxes were donated to house and to transport turtles. Tons of clean towels appeared from nowhere to line boxes and comfort distressed animals. Convoys of volunteer vehicles rushed rescued turtles 100 miles from the Wellfleet Bay sanctuary to intensive medical care at the New England Aquarium facility in Quincy. Expert staff and trained volunteers worked around the clock to save each precious patient. Once medically stabilized, turtles were dispersed to dozens of aquariums and marine centers throughout the East Coast for release or for additional rehabilitation that would last from a few weeks to several months.

Volunteer Drive Rushes Loggerhead and Boxed Kemp’s Ridleys to New England Aquarium

Responding to an unprecedented crisis and an overwhelming need beyond the in-house resources of local conservation groups, hundreds of individuals and scores of organizations banded together into an extemporaneous, yet powerful community dedicated to “crowdsaving” the world’s most endangered sea turtles. Together they rescued hundreds of Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles from the brink of death and returned them to the wild to help restore endangered and threatened populations.

Don Lewis Releases Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle in Osterville

When these turtles wash ashore on Cape Cod, they have already cleared survival obstacles that claim 999 out of 1000 sea turtle hatchlings. Except for the geologic accident of Cape Cod’s hook, created by the retreating Laurentide glacier thousands of years ago, they would safely migrate back to southern waters to mature and to breed. Now, with but a brief interruption for “crowdsaving,” they will reach their natal waters to do what comes naturally.

More Than 150 Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles Strand on November 21st, 2014

As sure as late October leaves frost on Halloween pumpkins, the sea turtle stranding season will soon explode in Cape Cod Bay. Already a handful of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have appeared early on Cape beaches in what appears to be pre-cold-stunned condition. With the first sustained storm in November, the stranding season will kick off in earnest.

Massive Juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtle Awaits Rescue Between Tides

Mass Audubon will deploy patrols to search for stranded turtles around each high tide. Still, in these life and death situations, there can never be too many eyes on a beach. During stranding peaks, turtles can be found throughout the 12-hour tidal cycle, stuck in oozy flats, drifting helplessly along the shore or simply beached. A turtle stranded on an ebbing tide might wait six to nine hours for the next scheduled patrol and may not survive. When a cold-stunned sea turtle strands on a beach, hypothermia sets in as freezing winds drain the body of heat; death comes quickly if turtles are not recovered soon after they become exposed to frigid air. Off-peak beach walks can and do safe lives.

Turtles Strand on Bayside Beaches Opposite Prevailing Wind Direction

Selecting the best beach depends largely on wind direction over the previous 24 hours and, of course, luck. Turtles strand on bayside beaches. Place an imaginary stickpin in the center of Cape Cod Bay and draw a broad invisible arrow from the pin toward the shore in the direction the wind is blowing. A west wind tosses turtles on beaches from Orleans to Truro. A north wind drives turtles toward Barnstable and Dennis. Prevailing northwesterly storms push sea turtles onto beaches from Brewster to Eastham.

Sue Wieber Nourse and Jared Nourse Rescue Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley from Chapin Beach after Midnight

Nighttime beaches can be extremely dangerous for the inexperienced. What seemed like a safe family beach in daylight transforms into a potentially lethal scene at night. Storm surf deafens; high tide swallows beaches; breakers pound cliffs and seawalls. Nothing looks, feels or sounds familiar. Finding landmarks is nearly impossible. Nighttime patrols should be left to the professionals.

While 2014 has surely braced folks for the new stranding season, no amount of preparation can suffice once the overwhelming day after day, night after night rescue season kicks in. Staff and volunteers fatigue, supplies dwindle, rescued numbers mount, facilities overcrowd, and turtles still pile up on beaches with every tide.


(1)   Support Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and the New England Aquarium who play essential roles in rescuing and saving these exquisite animals

(2)   Offer to volunteer for beach patrols and as turtle drivers

(3)   Donate towels and thick foam pads for turtles to rest upon

(4)   If you discover a stranded sea turtle on the beach,

  1. Do NOT put it back in the water
  2. Do NOT remove it from the beach
  3. Move it ABOVE the high tide line
  4. Cover it with dry seaweed to prevent hypothermia
  5. Mark it with distinctive beach debris
  6. Call MAS WBWS at 508-349-2615 ext. 104 to retrieve the turtle
  7. Give clear directions from the nearest landing or beach access

(5)  Sea turtles are federally protected and require a permit to transport

Three-Year-Old Teague Whalley Rescues World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtle from Bourne Beach

Sea turtles are exquisite creatures, and the opportunity to save them makes for unbelievably blissful moments. Cape Cod geology and weather combine to create special circumstances every fall that trap hundreds of tropical and semi-tropical turtles inside the bay. Crowdsaving has effectively rescued thousands of these precious animals from certain death. Working together, every day people from three to ninety-three transform themselves into superheroes who secure the future of the world’s most endangered sea turtles. Be a hero, rescue a turtle, and save the world.

Turtle Journal Encounters Alligator Nest in Everglades Swamp

October 26th, 2015

 Turtle Journal Team Stumbles Across Alligator Momma in Everglades

In early October the Turtle Journal team discovered a recently hatched alligator nest in the Florida Everglades. As we walked through flooded swamplands searching for tiny tree frogs (a topic for a later posting), we literally stumbled across a ferocious mother alligator power-napping at the edge of the trail. She captured our full attention as she menacingly rustled and roared an easily understandable warning. Momma bellowed “the rules of the road” about approaching her pod, rules to which we were most eager to adhere.  

Baby Alligator in Florida Everglades

After adrenaline levels and heart rates resumed near normalcy, Sue Wieber Nourse spotted the first baby alligator, fully camouflaged in the swampy vegetation about 20 feet from momma.

Can You Find the Four Baby Alligators Camouflaged in Everglades Swamp?

In all we counted four hatchlings that were at least partially visible in the dense swamp. As evening approached we spotted a red shouldered hawk approach the scene. It made a few attempts at the tasty hatchlings, but momma proved a bit more intimidating than the hawk had anticipated. It quickly flew away.

Momma Alligator and Her Camouflaged Baby in Everglades Swamp

In mid August we had observed alligator nests in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. So, we were surprised to see nests hatching this late in the year in the Everglades. On the other hand, who wants to tell this robust momma that she can’t lay her nests wherever and whenever she wants (smile)?

Turtle nests are great fun to observe and so satisfying to conserve. Alligator nests not only share the same sense of fun and satisfaction, but are spiced with the added ingredient of heart-pounding, adrenaline spiked “awareness” that’s difficult to replicate with any other species.

We love turtles; we respect alligators.

Turtle Journal Team Spotlighted on Weather Channel Feature

October 21st, 2015

Strangest Weather on Earth, Season 3, Episode 6, 18 October 2015 

On Sunday, October 18th, the Weather Channel premiered Season 3, Episode 6 of the Strangest Weather on Earth. This hour long program included a segment that spotlighted record sea turtle standings on Cape Cod during Fall 2014 and highlighted the Turtle Journal team’s observations and rescues on November 21st, 2014. On that date, Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse rescued 18 cold-stunned sea turtles from 2.5 miles of beach stretching from Fisher Landing in Truro through Bound Brook Island in North Wellfleet. Sixteen were critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and two were endangered green sea turtles.  

Record Number of Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles Recovered from Cape Cod Beaches in 2014

The Fall 2014 cold-stunned stranding season saw more than 1200 sea turtles recovered from Cape Cod beaches.  These strandings have proven an annual Fall event with juvenile sea turtles trapped inside Cape Cod Bay by cold water in the Atlantic Ocean, but 2014 produced four times the previous record stranding season. These stranded turtles are overwhelming two-to-three year old Kemp’s ridleys, but include a significant number of juvenile loggerheads and green sea turtles. Occasionally a hybrid juvenile comes ashore and very rarely a hawksbill. Foot patrols are dispatched every high tide and organized by Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to ensure that stranded turtles are recovered as soon as possible after reaching the beach where hypothermia can quickly extinguish any hope of recovery.

Turtle Journal Team Featured on Weather Channel Episode

In April Pioneer Productions of London, England contacted the Turtle Journal team by Skype. They had been tapped by the Weather Channel to produce the third season of the Strangest Weather on Earth. Hearing about the record Fall event, Pioneer had been looking for real-time video footage of these sea turtle strandings and discovered through our postings that Turtle Journal had unique footage based on our decades of documented rescues. After the Skype chat, Pioneer decided to send a full film crew to the Cape to interview us as rescuers and participants in the record stranding event.

Turtle Journal Team Relate Record Sea Turtle Rescues in November 2014

On May 2nd, a highly skilled location director and an exceptional photographer arrived in Wellfleet from London and met up with a local sound man. They “miked us” and proceeded with a four hour shoot in which the director served as an off camera interviewer to spur our conversation about sea turtle rescues. With this much footage in the can, supplemented by our live stranding video clips, we had fully expected our 15 minutes of celebrity (smile). Sadly, celebrity seems to have been affected by global deflation of audience attention span.  All those hours of material were compressed into three minutes of air time! Still, with the Weather Channel’s global reach, getting even 180 seconds of coverage for the Turtle Journal mission to save the world one turtle at a time can be counted as a valuable asset. Once “in the digital can,” this episode will live on and on and on and on in worldwide reruns and be available as on demand content forever.

(HUMOROUS ASIDE: To relax us during the setup, the photographer told us of his recent work with Prince Charles. When the photographer told the prince that he would have to puncture his tie with the microphone, Charles had reportedly said, “That’s fine. I already have a closet full of ties with holes in them.” We’re not sure that royal name-dropping helped to relax us for the photoshoot.)

Last Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nest @ Naples Vanderbilt Beach

October 20th, 2015

Last Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling Swims into Gulf of Mexico

The last loggerhead sea turtle hatchling of 2015 emerged from the sands of Vanderbilt Beach on Thursday morning, October 8th. Scrambling to the Gulf and imprinting on Naples pristine white beach along the way, this tiny baby struggled through the surf zone to venture into the expansive waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the global ocean beyond.  As though sensing the enormity of this challenge, our little hatchling surfaced, took a deep breath and surveyed the boundless horizon.  In an instant, it disappeared into the unfathomable mystery of the Lost Years, hopefully defying nearly insurmountable odds to resurface as a healthy juvenile before the end of the decade.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nest #191 @ Naples Vanderbilt Beach

Once a quiet, undiscovered tropical paradise, Naples has transformed through the late 20th and early 21st century into an international vacation resort with quaint one story, seaside bungalows transformed into high rise condominium towers.  Yet, sea turtles remain undeterred in returning to their natal beach to dig nests and deposit eggs promising the next generation of marine leviathans.  Sea turtle patrols organized by Collier County scour Vanderbilt Beach through spring and summer in search of tracks as mommas crawl ashore dragging hundreds of pounds across the sand to a nesting spot above the high tide line.  Nest #191, pictured above, proved the last of the season on Vanderbilt Beach.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nest #191 @ Naples Vanderbilt Beach

Once a nest is located, the sea turtle patrol cordons off the site and covers it with a large gauge wire mesh to discourage predators, but to allow the hatchlings to emerge after incubation. With heavy rain and storms, this season has proven challenging for Vanderbilt Beach nests. Many have succumbed to flooding that completely washed out nest and eggs.  Others have shown reduced productivity with undeveloped eggs, drowned hatchlings and unpipped hatchlings still inside their eggs.  Nest #191 became one of the latter.

Loggerhead Hatchling Tracks from Nest #191 @ Vanderbilt Beach

As the Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse walked Vanderbilt Beach early Thursday morning, October 8th, she spotted a hatchling track originating at an emergence hole in the center of Nest #191.  After documenting the discovery, she flagged down Markus of the Collier County sea turtle patrol and alerted him to the overnight hatching of #191, the last remaining viable nest on Vanderbilt Beach.  (ASIDE:  Sue knew Markus and the Collier County team from July when she had assisted with sea turtle nesting patrols.)

Loggerhead Hatchling Emerges from Nest 191 @ Vanderbilt Beach

Later in the morning, Markus returned to Nest #191 with fellow sea turtle patroller Mary to excavate the nest. Marcus carefully dug up the nest while Mary jotted down findings and released live hatchlings as they were uncovered.  Turtle Journal’s Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse documented the excavation and the release.

6 Loggerhead Hatchlings from Nest #191 @ Vanderbilt Beach

Nine live hatchlings remained in the escape tunnel, working their way to the surface, six of whom are imaged above. While we didn’t get an opportunity to measure and weigh these loggerhead hatchlings, they appeared substantially smaller and lighter than average, perhaps due to their late emergence or perhaps as a result of flooding and overwash.

Eggs Shards of Emerged Loggerhead Hatchlings from Nest #191

The pile of eggs shards told the tale of how many loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings had fully developed and had pipped from this clutch. While it was challenging for us to following Marcus’ counting in German, we noted more than 40 eggs shards representing more than 40 hatchlings. Unfortunately, nearly half had died inside the nest after pipping, most likely from drowning.

Developing Loggerhead Eggs from Nest #191 @ Vanderbilt Beach

Nine of the eggs contained developing hatchling that had not yet pipped.  Their growth had been arrested, perhaps by flooding, and these unborn babies had enormous yolk sacs with umbilici still attached.

Undeveloped Loggerhead Eggs from Nest #191 @ Vanderbilt Beach

Nest  #191 contained ~ 35 eggs that had not developed at all.

Last Loggerhead Hatchling Scrambles toward Gulf of Mexico

Following the Turtle Journal mantra: “There’s always one more!”, Sue Wieber Nourse spotted a hatchling in the neck of the nest that had burrowed itself so that Marcus couldn’t see it.  And so this hatchling had the privilege of being the last hatchling from the last 2015 nest on Vanderbilt Beach.  Sue watched and documented its progress as it scrambled from the nest to the water, imprinting its natal location, and beginning a most daunting life and death ocean adventure.

Last Loggerhead Hatchling Reaches the Gulf of Mexico Surf Zone

The tiny hatchling plunged into the shallow water and like an Energizer bunny, wiggled and powered its way through the pounding surf zone.

Last Loggerhead Hatchling Clears the Gulf of Mexico Surf Zone

In calmer water across the surf zone, the hatchling paused, seeming to reflect and to gather its strength for the journey ahead.

Last Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling Swims into Gulf of Mexico

The last loggerhead hatchling surfaced and gulped a big breath of air. It surveyed the boundless horizon of the Gulf of Mexico, kicked its feet and paddled its flippers as it disappeared into the oceans beyond. After leaving the beach, sea turtle hatchlings vanish for the next few years, known by turtle researchers as the Lost Years.  Except on rare, unpredictable instances, we don’t see them until they reappear as fairly good sized juveniles.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling Snatches a Breath Before Its Great Ocean Adventure

Some researchers say that the odds of survival for a sea turtle hatchling are one in a thousand. When measuring the infinitesimal tininess of these creatures with comparatively infinite size of the world’s oceans, we can begin to appreciate the challenge they face. Watching the last hatchling confront these odds on an October morning in tropical Southwest Florida, the Turtle Journal team renewed our respect for these magnificent critters and celebrated the privilege we have been granted to witness such extraordinary stories.


“There’s Always One More” — October 12th, 2015

The Turtle Journal mantra never fails. There IS always one more.

On the early morning of October 12th, Sue Wieber Nourse walked Vanderbilt Beach from the Ritz Carlton southward. As she approached Nest #191 that had been fully excavated on October 8th, she stopped abruptly. It couldn’t be, but it was. A single hatchling track emerged from the site of Nest #191 and made a beeline for the Gulf of Mexico.

When the excavation concluded on October 8th, Markus had replaced all the dead hatchlings, shards, partially pipped eggs and undeveloped eggs back into the nest and reburied it. Predators, first ghost crabs and later mammals, had discovered the cache and continued to revisit the site each night. Somehow, one hatchling had been missed during excavation, or a presumably dead hatchling wasn’t, or one of the undeveloped eggs wasn’t so undeveloped after all.

Whatever the source, one more live loggerhead sea turtle had evaded hosts of predators and emerged from Nest #191 overnight, had scrambled down to the water, and had disappeared into the Gulf of Mexico.

As we reported to Collier County via text and images on October 12th, “Predators hit excavated Nest #191 last night, but one tenacious hatchling still managed to emerge. The hatchling made a beeline for the Gulf and its tracks showed clearly to the high tide mark. Augment the live count for Nest #191 by one, and drop the pipped or dead hatchling count by one.”

There’s always one more and that’s what makes life so amazing and so interesting!

First Ever Triple Nesting Diamondback Terrapin Discovered on Massachusetts SouthCoast

July 10th, 2015

Diamondback Terrapin #825 after Depositing Third Nest of 2015

Diamondback Terrapin #825 came ashore Thursday afternoon, July 9th, on a private beach in Wareham, MA. She deposited a nest in a sand-enhanced “turtle garden” adjacent to the beach; 13 beautiful pink eggs weighing a total of 100 grams. Michele Zollo waited for momma to cover her nest, and then scooped her up for the Turtle Journal team to document.

Terrapin #825:  Three Nests, 39 Eggs, 36 Days

BIG SURPRISE! This day marked her THIRD confirmed nest in 2015. Terrapin #825 nested with the earliest tranche of terrapins in early June, depositing 14 eggs at this “turtle garden” on June 4th. Nineteen days later, #825 returned on June 23rd to lay 12 eggs in a nest very close to her first clutch. Now, after an interval of 17 days, #825 dropped 13 eggs in the same “turtle garden” for a total of 39 eggs in 36 days! We had never before confirmed a triple nester on Massachusetts SouthCoast. We had speculated; we had inferred the possibility, but July 9th marks the first time we have actually had the same turtle in hand for physical confirmation of three nests in one season.

Identification of Diamondback Terrapin #825

Exact identification proves critical in definitive confirmation of events such as these. Terrapin #825’s facial skin markings are quite unique in the SouthCoast system and are easily recognizable, as is her extremely “feisty” behavior.  However, a bit more empirical are her “numerical” marks.  Etched with a triangular file in her marginals are marks that we interpret as #825 in our system of marking; see the image immediately above which can be expanded by clicking.  Each turtle in the Buzzards Bay population has a unique number.  The line through the nuchal (split nuchal), the scars on her first left costal, and the nick in the “10” marginal provide additional confirmation of her identification.  Digital images at each capture re-confirm these markings, just as digital photographs of her plastron reinforce her identification.  We also take six morphological measurements of length and width at specific points of her carapace and plastron, as well as her girth and her weight at each capture.  In addition to the scientific data these measurements provide, they also confirm Terrapin #825’s identification.  

Broadmarsh Habitat of Diamondback Terrapin #825 in Wareham

Terrapin #825 lives in an extremely protected estuary system off Buzzards Bay in Wareham, Massachusetts. The habitat is called Broadmarsh and lies near Swifts Beach. This area is so well protected that it warms up quickly in the spring, coaxing the first local terrapins out of winter brumation and inspiring the earliest nesters to come ashore.

Michele Zollo (left) and Sue Wieber Nourse Admire Terrapin #825 after Third Nest

A few years ago Michele and Louis Zollo, recognizing that their private beach served as an important terrapin nesting site, augmented the habitat with several tons of sand, creating a safe and inviting “turtle garden.” Michele carefully watches her girls as they waddle in from the bay to deposit eggs from late May through the middle of July. She calls the Turtle Journal team to document the terrapins, and Michele protects nests with predator excluders to save as many of these hatchlings as possible. In late summer, Michele releases them into the abutting nursery salt marsh.

Terrapin #825’s Third Nest of 2015 in Broadmarsh “Turtle Garden”

On June 24th, 2013, an unmarked female terrapin, later marked #825, crawled ashore to nest in the Broadmarsh “turtle garden,” probably for her second nest of the season. The next time we saw Terrapin #825 was June 26th, 2014, when she placed a nest with 15 eggs in the “turtle garden,” again likely her second nest of the season.

Diamondback Terrapin #825 with 13 Eggs in Her Third Nest of 2015

This 2015 year proved a special year for #825 or at least her research colleagues. In the 36 days from June 4th to July 9th, she deposited 39 eggs (~313 grams) in three clutches of 14, 12 and 13 eggs, respectively. She became the first confirmed triple nester on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.

NOTE:  The average clutch size in Massachusetts is 12.5 eggs which we round up to 13 because half eggs are tough to come by (smile). The normal number of clutches per year for Massachusetts terrapins is two.  So, #825 maintained the same clutch size while laying an extra third nest.

June 4th:  Terrapin #825 First 2015 Nest with 14 Eggs

June 4th, Terrapin #825 at a mass of ~1409 grams came ashore at the Broadmarsh “turtle garden” as only the second nesting terrapin of the year at this site; a leading edge lady. The first nester at this site had beaten her by 30 minutes. She deposited a clutch of 14 eggs and returned to the bay at a mass of 1297 grams.

June 23rd:  Terrapin #825 Second 2015 Nest with 12 Eggs

(2 Broken)

June 23rd, Terrapin #825 at a mass of ~1378 grams came ashore at the Broadmarsh “turtle garden” for her second nest of the season. She deposited a clutch of 12 eggs weighing a total of 101 grams in a nest very near her first nest. Her egg chamber stretched from 5 inches to 9 inches below the surface. She returned to the bay at a mass of 1277 grams.

NOTE: For comparison, in 2014 #825 weighed 1186 grams after depositing a second clutch of 15 ~8 gram eggs. Her mass coming ashore would have been ~1306 grams.

INTERVAL:  19 days between first and second clutches. The average interval between clutches for Massachusetts terrapins is 17 days.

July 9th:  Terrapin #825 Third 2015 Nest with 13 Eggs

July 9th, to the surprise of all, Terrapin #825 at a mass of ~1335 grams came ashore at the Broadmarsh “turtle garden” to deposit her THIRD NEST of the season. She is the only diamondback terrapin to be confirmed as a triple nester on Massachusetts SouthCoast. She dropped 13 eggs weighing 100 grams in a nest a few feet away from her previous two nests. She returned to the bay at a mass of 1235 grams.

INTERVAL:  17 days between clutches.

Her 12 second clutch eggs weighed an average of 8.4 grams each; her 13 third clutch eggs averaged 7.7 grams each. Her mass investment in the first clutch was 8% of her weight, 7% for the second clutch, and 7.5% for the third clutch.

Terrapin #825 Weighed 1235 Grams after Depositing Her Third 2015 Clutch

From her initial mass of 1409 grams to her ending mass of 1235 grams after three clutches, she lost a total of 174 grams while investing 313 grams into her clutches’ egg mass. So, during those 36 days, she also “gained” 139 grams in dietary in-take to make up the difference. Terrapin #815 averaged a gain of 4.3 grams a day from June 4th to June 23rd, and 3.4 grams a day from June 23rd to July 9th.

NOTE:  In considering whether this triple nester represents a special situation, an isolated case or her normal nesting pattern, we should keep in mind that the 2014-2015 winter was cold, snowy and long, and that the 2015 spring was delayed. Nesting on the SouthCoast began on time at the very end of May, neither early nor late.

Confirmation of a triple nester within the SouthCoast terrapin population brings into question certain assumptions about northern-most terrapin nesting and population models. We will need to monitor very carefully other sites within Massachusetts terrapin populations to determine whether this phenomenon is simply a one-off event, or a rare situation, or perhaps relatively normal for the season’s earliest, leading edge terrapin nesters.

CAUTION:  It remains extremely challenging to confirm a three-time nester, given that definitive proof for the first case had escaped our notice during three and a half decades of very intense diamondback terrapin observations within Massachusetts estuaries since 1980.