Wareham “Field of Dreams” (for Rare Terrapins)

Broadmarsh Terrapin Nester #816

On Friday Terrapin #816 swam ashore from the Broadmarsh River in Wareham to lay her first nest of the year.  Lucky for her, and her offspring, the Zollo Family has created a “Field of Dreams” for terrapins by transforming their exquisite bayside property into a turtle garden, a wildlife sanctuary for threatened diamondback terrapins.

Terrapin 850:  First Broadmarsh Nester, July 2007

The story began back in 2007.  Michael Zollo had been a student at Tabor Academy where Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse held the Jaeger Chair for Marine Studies.  He followed closely the discovery of threatened diamondback terrapins in Buzzards Bay by Wieber Nourse’s students in her Advanced Marine Science research course.  (See Students Follow Clues to Rare Turtle; Tabor Research May Help Increase Threatened Species, December 2003.)  So, when a terrapin came ashore during the July 4th weekend of 2007 on the Zollo property off Broadmarsh River in Wareham, they knew what to do and whom to call:  the Turtle Journal team.

Zollo Family and Don Lewis with Terrapin, July 2007

Michael (left), Louis (center) and Michele (right, holding turtle) observe as Don Lewis confirms the nest and protects the eggs.  They learn that their property is perfect nesting habitat abutted by a pristine nursery salt marsh.  And they want to know what they can do to help this rare and threatened species in their own backyard. 

Broadmarsh Turtle Garden in Bloom (July 2008)

Yes, Virginia.  Not only is there a Santa Claus, but one family can make a heroic difference in protecting endangered species.  Their home was already a beautiful wildlife sanctuary, yet there was almost no unvegetated upland nesting for terrapins.  Michele and Louis applied to the Wareham Conservation Commission to bring in tons and tons of perfect sand to create a huge “turtle garden,” completely free of predatory vegetation and nearly a foot deep to support terrapin nesting.  By the next summer, terrapin mommas were frequenting the new garden and their babies-in-waiting were protected by predator excluders.  Thanks to Michele and Louis, hundreds of hatchlings emerge safely in the fall … each year … to begin to restore Buzzards Bay’s depresssed population of these rare turtles.  Yes, a genuine Hollywood ending:  “If you build it, they will come.”

Michele Zollo Relocates Nest to Turtle Garden

Back to the future last Friday, Michele welcomed the fourth terrapin nester of this year, #816.  She had laid her nest fifty feet from the sandy turtle garden, amidst grassy roots that can invade turtle eggs and destroy hatchlings.

 

Amazing Consistency of Terrapin Nesting

Not surprising for Terrapin #816.  As most terrapins do, she comes to the same spot every year as is confirmed by this photograph of her 2010 nest.  The hope is that her babies, when they emerge, will be imprinted to the sand of the turtle garden.

Terrapoin 816′s Fifteen Perfect Eggs

As she has done so faithfully for five years now, Michele followed perfect protocol in immediately harvesting the eggs and relocating them to the much more viable sand of the turtle garden.  Fifteen beautiful, freshly laid eggs representing the future of diamondback terrapins in Buzzards Bay.

Terrapin 816 Returns to Broadmarsh River

After yielding her updated measurements to Sue Wieber Nourse and her eggs to the Zollo turtle garden, Terrapin 816 headed back into Broadmarsh River.  We are all planning a “Welcome Home Party” for June 2015 when we should see the first babies from the turtle garden returning as adult mommas to create their own nests full of hope and promise for diamondback terrapins in Buzzards Bay.  When they do, it will be thanks to the efforts of the Zollo Family and folks like them who take it upon themselves to build fields of dreams to conserve nature for future generations of terrapins … and people, too. 

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