Recently, the National Aquarium’s Conservation team welcomed 51 hatchling Diamondback Terrapins from the aquarium’s site at Poplar Island. After passing their Animal Health exams, these tiny turtles have remained under watchful eyes for a few weeks, making sure they are gaining strength and a healthy appetite.
Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are native to brackish coastal swamps of the eastern and southern United States. Their range stretches from Cape Cod to as far as the Florida Keys.
In a few weeks, the terrapin hatchlings will be distributed to schools throughout Maryland as part of the National Aquarium’s “Terrapins in the Classroom” program! Through this program, students and teachers are charged with caring for a little turtle all school year. They collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care skills and research the natural history of the species. In late spring, the students release the terrapins back onto Poplar Island. The hatchlings are quarter-sized right now, but throughout the year they grow steadily in a warm, clean classroom tank with all the UVB and basking heat they could want…and without fear of predators!
Scientists are studying the impact of this ‘head start’ on adult terrapin populations around Poplar Island. Last year, a female head start terrapin was found nesting on the island for the first time, which is great news!
“Terrapins in the Classroom” is one of many National Aquarium programs that provide a unique, hands-on opportunity for students to form a meaningful connection to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Terrapins are a protected species in Maryland, as well as the state reptile, and their population numbers have stabilized only recently due to the diligence of local experts and supporters.
Poplar Island is located in the upper Chesapeake Bay, about 34 miles south of Baltimore, Maryland, near Talbot County.
The habitat offered by Poplar Island and other remote islands has historically offered safe, relatively predator free habitat to many of the Bay’s diverse wildlife and bird species, as well as a safe harbor for the Bay’s fish and shellfish resources. Once a thriving 1,000-acre community, the island fell victim to erosion. In 1994, all that remained of the island were several small clusters of islets rising just above the surface of the water.
Reduced to 4 acres, Poplar Island’s disappearance seemed imminent. Rather than let the island disappear, federal and state environmental agencies decided the island is worth saving.
Partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Port Administration, and Maryland Environmental Service, the National Aquarium is leading the effort to restore the island by planting native marsh grasses that will ensure added site stability, reduce the potential for erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife.