Turtle population making comeback through work of Marion residents

Mar 10, 2018

Most of the gardens in Marion are tended to by the Marion Garden Group. One, however, calls for a different type of expertise.

The “Turtle Garden” is located at The Cove on Hammetts Creek, off Point Road. The garden was created four years ago to restore the diamondback terrapin’s nesting habitat in an area where humans have taken over.

Residents of The Cove volunteer to help the terrapins into the designated area to nest, protect the nest, and then help as many babies survive as possible. Deb Ewing spoke to the Marion Woman’s Club on Friday afternoon about her experience tending to the garden.

“Our mission is to follow their life cycle,” Ewing said. “…One reason we’re doing this is because we’ve taken over their habitat. We’re trying to give that back to them.”

The turtles will hibernate through the winter, and reemerge around May, when the water temperature starts to get into the 50s. The next step in the life cycle is a little bit of a mystery.

“They don’t mate in The Cover,” Ewing said. “We don’t know where they mate. But they return to The Cove to nest in mid-June.”

Terrapins always return to their birthplace to lay eggs and nest for the summer. The first year of the garden, there were only about eight to 10 nests protected in the garden. However, last year there were more than 30.

Volunteers use chicken wire to help protect the nests from predators such as foxes, raccoons, fisher cats and larger birds. People from The Cove are out every day looking for nests so that they can make sure they are properly protected.

The eggs are deposited in the nests between mid June and early July. Each turtle lays between seven and 12 eggs, and they are incubated for around 75 days. During warmer summers they may hatch sooner.

Sex of the babies is determined by temperature – warmer eggs will be female and cooler eggs will be male. Terrapins are carnivores, and will eat snails, worms and insects as babies.

When imagining baby turtles hatching, many people envision the scenes of thousands of babies running straight for the water. This, however, is not the case with terrapins.

“They will wander around randomly,” Ewing said. “They don’t go running to the sea like sea turtles do.”

In 2017, Ewing said The Cove saw about 320 babies hatched, and she’s confident the group will be able to turn the “special concern” denoted species around.

“We’re trying to get help from people who know what they’re doing,” she said. “[Terrapins] are making a decent comeback.”

Ewing said people from Mass Audubon and New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance are working with the group to further improve efforts.