Terrapin Turtle Day

The Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island in Maryland is a one-of-a-kind project off Tilghman Island in the Chesapeake Bay. The island, which had eroded to five acres by 1993, is currently being restored to its historic footprint using sediment dredged from the shipping channels approaching the Port of Baltimore. A lack of land predators, undisturbed sandy shorelines, and a wide range of habitat types make Poplar an ideal diamondback terrapin nesting site.

Arlington Echo, the National Aquarium, and Maryland Environmental Service coordinate with K-12 schools to place Poplar Island terrapin hatchlings in the classroom as part of a “head start” program. The juvenile turtles live in classrooms from fall through the following spring. Students care for the terrapins, collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn care and husbandry protocol, and research the natural history of our state reptile. Head starting allows the hatchlings to grow to the size of a 2-3 year old wild juvenile terrapin in just nine months. After caring for the hatchlings, students bring the terrapins back to Poplar Island where they are released to the Bay. This hands-on learning experience engages students to take action and better understand the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

Before the head start terrapins are released back on the beaches of Poplar Island, they are implanted with a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag and cleared for release by a licensed veterinarian. If these terrapins are ever recaptured, the PIT tag allows them be scanned and identified.

VCA South Arundel Animal Hospital doctors Patricia Ware and Karen Donnelly, along with technicians Chloe Singer and Jennifer Norman donated their time on April 5 to help with this exciting project. They performed physical exams, recording size, weight and body condition as well as looking for any skin or shell lesions and signs of upper respiratory disease. The goal was to ensure that the terrapins were healthy enough to be returned to the wild to fend for themselves after living in the comforts of a classroom aquarium for a year. Their PIT tags were also checked to make sure they were in place and readable. Nearly all 132 terrapins examined were in great shape and ready for their adventures ahead.