Rare Turtle Nests at Tabor’s Schaefer Lab

Sue Wieber Nourse Examines Terrapin @ Schaefer Lab Beach

Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse discovered a beautiful diamondback terrapin nesting on the beach at Tabor Academy’s Schaefer Lab off Sippican Harbor in Marion, Massachusetts on this morning’s high tide.  A large female, she measured 8 1/2 inches long and weighed 3 pounds 2 ounces after laying a 5 ounce clutch of eggs.

Female Diamondback Terrapin Nesting @ Schaefer Lab

Wieber Nourse, as former director of the Schaefer Oceanonolgy Lab and inaugural holder of the Jaeger Chair for Marine Studies at Tabor Academy, had documented the presence of rare diamondback terrapins in Sippican Harbor with her advanced marine science students under a major grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.  See the Boston Globe article of December 7th, 2003: Students Follow Clues to Rare Turtle.  Also see the New Bedford Standard-Times report of September 17, 2004:  Rare Terrapins Come Out of Their Shells.  Diamondback terrapins are a protected species in Massachusetts where they are listed as threatened.  Their existence in Sippican Harbor had not been known before Wieber Nourse launched her hands-on, original research project at Tabor, a groundbreaking study at the secondary school level.  Now, with Turtle Journal, she works to restore the at risk population of terrapins that she and her students found in Sippican Harbor.

Rare Terrapin Nesting Among Summer Obstacles

Coming ashore on the morning tide, this protected female first had to scale a concrete barrier installed at the beach edge (see top left).  After climbing this obstacle, she had to zigzag among inflatable rafts, kayaks and canoes piled on formerly documented nesting sands.  Beyond the watercraft maze, the female terrapin had to negotiate her path around a fire pit to locate a nesting spot within proximity of her natal site. 

 Rare Protected Turtle Nests @ Tabor’s Schaefer Lab

When Sue came across this turtle, she was well into the nesting ritual, offering a great opportunity for Wieber Nourse to document the process for Turtle Journal.  Once egg laying had finished and the terrapin had begun to cover, Sue was able to move in closer to record the unique way that turtles meticulously bury and disguise their nests.  Without eyesight, they depend exclusively on their rear limbs that move with the delicacy of a Gheisha’s hands to emplace and then cover their eggs. 

12 Rare Diamondback Terrapin Eggs @ Schaefer Lab

This large female had deposited 12 perfect eggs in the nest, each weighing about half an ounce and measuring 1.5 inches long and almost an inch in diameter.  Because of heavy activity at this beach during summer months, the eggs were harvested and relocated to a safe turtle garden to incubate.  Once hatchlings emerge in September, they will be returned for release to the nursery salt marsh abutting Schaefer Lab.  These babies will renew the cycle of life and restore the threatened terrapin population in Sippican Harbor that had been on the verge of extirpation before Wieber Nourse launched her successful research efforts.

Comments are closed.