Life From Death — Local Heroes Save Threatened Turtles

Perfect Terrapin Hatchlings Salvaged from Dead Mother

It takes more, much more, than research to save a species.  It takes dedication, commitment and, yes, courage of entire communities to intervene in seemingly small and yet sometimes heroic ways to turn the tide of extinction.  Turtle Journal gets to meet these local heroes every day, and on occasion, we have the opportunity to tell their tale.  Today’s story is about Mike Maurer and how his action brought life from death; not too shabby a feat for this SouthCoast everyman.

Twelve-Year-Old Female Terrapin Crushed by Traffic

On June 26th, a youngish, 12-year-old female diamondback terrapin came ashore from the Weweantic estuary to nest.  To her misfortune, she chose the busy Route 6 highway as her entry point.  Tragically, she was run over by summer traffic, struck with such force that her head was mangled and her shell pancaked, crushing the birth canal and squirting eggs across the road.  Unsurprisingly, most eggs were crushed instantly; few survived the ordeal.  Mike spotted the turtle and risked life and limb to snatch her up between speeding cars, in hopes that she might be saved.  He whisked her to Turtle Journal.  But sadly, she was mortally injured.

Salvaged Eggs, Cleaned and Ready to Plant

With the help of Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse, four eggs were salvaged from the disaster.  They were cleaned and gently planted in a protected nest within our “turtle garden” to incubate in safety throughout the summer.  Honestly, considering the trauma they had endured, we had little real expectation of their survival.  Yet, you’d think that Turtle Journal of all people would have learned that you should never underestimate the powerful life force of turtles.

Three Pipped Terrapin Babies in Egg Chamber

On Friday afternoon, September 14th, Don Lewis checked their nest to see if the eggs had survived.  He gently brushed away layers of sand with his fingers to ensure no harm to these fragile eggs.  About three inches deep, Don encountered a discolored egg shard and suspected the worst:  the eggs had never developed.  Yet with his next stroke, sadness turned to pure joy.  He saw the unmistakable pattern of a tiny terrapin carapace and soon uncovered three beautiful pipped hatchling, fully and perfectly developed and waiting to take on the world.

Three Energetic Babies Preserve Momma’s DNA

Admittedly, as I finished the excavation, I searched for memorable names with which to tag these miracle babies.  Lazarus came to mind among a handful of monikers from Greek mythology.  But after but a few moments watching their antics, the only name that really applied was … forgive me … the Three Stooges.  They tumbled one over the other, they shoved hand across the face of sibling to climb on top, and generally they were as comical a threesome as you could possibly imagine.  And so, in my mind, “Three Stooges” stuck.

On a more serious note, because of enormous egg and hatchling predation, it takes a mature female diamondback terrapin more than a decade of egg production simply to replace herself.  It takes another decade to replace her partner, and it takes about a decade before she reaches maturity.  So, nearly thirty years transpire simply for the population to break even.  Losing a young female is a tragedy for a species on the cusp of local extirpation in Buzzards Bay.  Thanks to Mike Maurer, we have a chance to preserve this female’s DNA for the ages.  And with the dedicated intervention of such heroes on the South Coast, we have an opportunity to reverse what seemed like the inevitable extinction of diamondback terrapins within our community.

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