Diamondback terrapins, the state reptile of Maryland, make their homes in coastal salt marshes, estuaries and tidal creeks along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts including the Chesapeake Bay. Sadly, terrapin populations fell to dangerously low levels in the 20th century after a long period of large-scale harvesting for their meat.
Although commercial harvest of terrapins ended in Maryland in 2007, their populations continue to be threatened by habitat loss, car and boat strikes, excessive nest predation and continued commercial harvesting in other states. The Terrapins in the Classroom program aims to give hatchling terrapins a better chance at survival while also fostering important connections between students and the ecosystems of the Bay.
Hatchling terrapins were collected from Poplar Island in the fall and were provided to 44 schools this year. Students named their turtles, cared for them, collected data on their growth, observed behaviors and learned about their terrapin throughout the year.
At the end of the school year, participating schools have the unique opportunity to ride on a boat to Poplar Island and release the terrapins into the same marsh habitat where they were hatched.
In 2016, 123 students traveled to Poplar Island to release a total of 37 terrapins. Since the program began in 2008, more than 578 students have been engaged and 189 terrapins have been released to the wild.
For many students, this program provides access to formative outdoor education experiences, such as their first trip across the Bay Bridge, first boat ride, and face-to-face interactions with wildlife!
Like our group of budding conservationists, you can also help terrapins thrive in the wild! Click here to learn how to help us protect wetland habitats and practicing terrapin-safe crabbing!