Baby Turtles Begin Hatching on SouthCoast

 First SouthCoast Terrapin Hatchling of 2012

This steamy August morning witnessed the first emergence of diamondback terrapin hatchlings on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts. Sixteen baby turtles were born today on a barrier beach in Marion. From the end of May through early July, female terrapins, a threatened species in the Commonwealth, swam ashore on coastal beaches in estuaries of Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Now, after incubating in eggs beneath the warm summer sand for ten weeks, the first hatchlings have begun to emerge from the few nests that have avoided depredation. Without a little human kindness and assistance, predation rates for turtle nests soar into the 90% range.

 Threatened Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling Emerges

Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse of Turtle Journal patrolled this barrier beach in Marion where they have documented terrapin nesting and have protected many such nests from predation. Wieber Nourse spotted hatchling tracks in the sand that disappeared into the surrounding salt marsh.

 First Terrapin Babies Emerge on SouthCoast

Lewis deduced the likely location of the nest from the tracks and gently excavated the area with his fingers. About three inches below the surface he began encountering baby turtles that had “pipped” their eggshells with their prominent egg tooth, but were still a bit too immature to venture safely into the wild. You can see in the photograph above how these babies were half in and half out of their eggs.

 Sand Covered Hatchling Scampers to Freedom

Unfortunately for these remaining hatchlings, ten of their siblings had left the nest over night. With the scent that they left behind in their discarded eggshells, they would have set off the dinner bell for a host of predators. These babies would have been devoured this evening as raccoons, skunks, foxes and other predators conduct their own hatchling patrols of the beach.

With a little help from human guardians, six terrapin babies were recovered from the nest. They still need a few more days of maturity before they can be safely released into the nursery salt marsh abutting the barrier beach. But their odds of survival have been significantly enhanced as turtle researchers work to restore declining populations of diamondback terrapins in Buzzards Bay estuaries. Terrapins are listed as a threatened species in Massachusetts.

Beyond terrapins on bayside beaches, other turtle hatchlings should be popping up throughout the SouthCoast within the next few weeks: Eastern box turtles in your yard, painted turtles and snappers in uplands surrounding lakes and ponds, and spotted turtles in wetlands and bogs. Advice from the Turtle Journal Team: Slow down and look down. The life you save may be a baby turtle.


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