Posts Tagged 'Terrapins'

On Thin Ice: An In-Depth Look at Endangered Species

With overflowing landfills, the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and a reliance on unsustainable energy sources, among other factors, the human population’s carbon footprint is ever-expanding. From melting polar ice caps to ocean acidification, the environmental impact is becoming increasingly evident.

The implications of a species disappearing reach far beyond the loss of a single organism. Extinction occurs when the last individual of a species dies, and the disappearance of just one plant or animal can have a cascading effect on an ecosystem.

Leveraging Legislation

On December 28, 1973, Congress passed a monumental piece of legislation—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the ESA was enacted to protect and restore populations threatened with extinction and their critical habitats.

More than 1,500 species are currently recognized as threatened or endangered by the ESA. The ESA prevents the “take” of those listed species from their habitat and limits trade and poaching of endangered species.

The ESA is a federal law, but it has the benefit of trickling down to state level. States, in many cases, create additional legislation to further the protection of species deemed to be endangered or threatened within their state boundaries.

Simple Changes

Too often the focus of the conversation of endangered species is the harm humans have on the environment. More important, however, is that simple behavioral changes can go a long way toward caring for and reviving the natural world.

Take palm oil.

This vegetable oil, a substitute for the partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats, can be found in everything from cereals and canned soups to baby formula and cosmetics. Through everyday purchases, many of us may be perpetuating the destruction of a habitat that boasts some of the greatest species diversity on Earth.

Palm oil plantations are popping up across Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries at the expense of tropical forests. The many species that depend on these forests, including endangered orangutans, face extreme peril.

orangutan

Something as simple as checking the ingredients before purchase could help save a species thousands of miles away.

A Global Connection

A healthy habitat is one of the most important factors when it comes to protecting endangered species. Under the ESA, regions can be designated as “critical habitat,” or areas essential to the survival of a species, but here is where it gets tricky.

Labeling an area critical habitat does not necessarily prevent the further development of that land. Essentially, the designation serves as a reminder to federal agencies to take extra precautions, even to modify projects, in order to minimize harm to these vital natural spaces.

From the water we drink to the air we breathe, humans rely on healthy ecosystems, and every species contained in an ecosystem plays an integral role in the success of that network.

A Proactive Approach

Not every species will be as lucky as the gray wolf, but it is not all doom and gloom. The diamondback terrapin, for example, though never listed as an endangered species in Maryland, has a history of exploitation.

diamondback terrapin

In the 19th century, terrapins were considered a delicacy and hunted for their use in stews. The demand for the terrapin, combined with other factors, caused their numbers to drop dangerously low.

Recognizing the risk, Maryland passed a law in 2007 ending the commercial harvest of terrapins in state waters. And while it is too soon to quantify the impact, alleviating pressure on a struggling population is a step in the right direction.

Bald eagles, American alligators, the Virginia northern flying squirrel, grizzly bears—there have been numerous success stories. In the best circumstances, a species will be “de-listed” from the ESA, meaning the population recovers to a point where it no longer requires protection under the law.

Do Your Part

Here are a few ways to show you care about the world’s endangered species, no matter where you live:

  1. Be a conscious consumer – Purchase products that are organic, locally grown or sustainably sourced.
  2. Back legislation that impacts the environment – Every comment counts, so if there is an issue you support, call or write a letter to your representative. Learn more about the National Aquarium’s legislative priorities at aqua.org/legislation.
  3. Contribute to a conservation organization – Provide financial support if you can. If you don’t have money to give, donate your time! Visit aqua.org/care to learn about opportunities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  4. Start in your own backyard – Planting native plants in your garden will attract native wildlife, including invaluable pollinators that help to preserve the natural environment.
  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle –  Join our 48 Days of Blue movement and learn how simple actions can make a big difference in protecting our natural world!

Terrapin Hatchlings Are Ready for School!

It’s that time of the year again! Students from across the country are packing-up their backpacks and getting ready to go back to school. At the Aquarium, forty-five hatchling turtles are also getting ready for their first day at school.

terrapin hatchling

Through the Terrapins in the Classroom Program, hatchling diamondback terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in late summer and then placed in partner schools around the state. Students and teachers are charged with caring for the little turtle all school year. They collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care techniques 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 will more than quadruple in size. Scientists are studying the impact of this ‘headstart’ on adult terrapin populations around Poplar Island.

The Terrapins in the Classroom Program provides a unique, hands-on opportunity for students to form a meaningful connection with an animal that lives in the Chesapeake Bay. As students wave goodbye to the terrapins, they begin to understand how they are connected to all aquatic animals and how their actions can impact the Chesapeake Bay.

This school year hundreds of students will do their part by helping to care for a terrapin in their classroom. You can do your part by planting a wetland, helping clean-up waterways, and practicing terrapin-safe crabbing!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Local Students Release Their Terrapins!

Since September, students from 32 schools across Maryland have cared for baby turtles in their classrooms. Through the National Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, hatchling diamondback terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in late summer and placed in partner schools. Throughout the year, students gain basic husbandry skills, collect growth data, and learn about the natural history of the Maryland state reptile.

“This is a once in a school-time experience,” said Andrew Hiller, a 5th grader from Naval Academy Primary School.

terrapin release

Thanks to the student’s dutiful care, the terrapins more than doubled in size and were ready to be released! Students and teachers took a boat ride to the island and a tour of the wetlands where the terrapins hatched. After carefully selecting a spot on the edge of the wetland, the students said goodbye to their terrapins and released them into the water.

“It was pretty exciting, letting it go. Even though it was nice having it, it was good to see it go have its own life,” said Matthew Szakmeister, a 2nd grader from Bushy Park Elementary School.

diamondback terrapin

Caring for, learning about, and releasing these turtles creates a unique and important connection between students and the natural world. Through this hands-on approach to conservation, our program hopes to inspire life-long environmental stewardship!

You can do your part to help diamondback terrapins by practicing turtle-safe crabbing this summer! Watch this video to learn how!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6Akh9fNdFI&feature=youtu.be]

Terrapins Go Back to School!

As children from across Maryland head back to school, students from 32 schools are welcoming baby turtles to their classrooms!

Through the National Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, hatchling diamondback turtles are collected from Poplar Island and placed in schools across the state. This year’s terrapins hatched in late July and early August. Aquarium staff cared for them until they began to eat regularly. This week and next week, the terrapins are being delivered to their new schools!

A terrapin hatchling

Students are charged with collecting growth data on the terrapins, observing their behavior, and researching their natural history. Along the way, they learn basic husbandry (animal care) skills and gain a unique connection to the Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the school year, students will release their terrapin back on Poplar Island.

Last school year, Matthew Floyd, an eighth grader from Lime Kiln Middle School, made a special connection with the terrapin at his school. Nicknamed “Leo” by the students, the terrapin was a key component of the school’s special education program. Every day Matt made sure to stop by to check on Leo and feed him. Matt’s experience with Leo taught him about how his actions can impact the environment. “We humans are finally learning from our mistakes, and that means everyone’s happy, including our animal friends,” he said.

This school year, hundreds of students, just like Matt, will develop a meaningful connection with their terrapin. Through this hands-on approach to conservation, the Terrapins in the Classroom program hopes to inspire life-long environmental stewardship.

Students get a closer look at a baby terrapin

The good news is there are many ways that you, too, can help diamondback terrapins! You can do your part by protecting wetlands, helping to ensure trash does not end up in our waterways, and practicing terrapin-safe crabbing!

Thoughtful Thursdays: The Nature of Learning

In early May, the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) spent two days at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge engaging students in activities focused on climate change and its effects on the diamondback terrapin.

Partnering with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, students were led through activities including a wetland planting promoting terrapin habitat, a GPS scavenger hunt to illustrate field monitoring techniques, and a nature walk along the butterfly garden, surveying the local bird population.

Prior to this field trip, Aquarium staff visited the students in their classrooms as part of an introduction to climate change, as well as terrapin characteristics and husbandry. Schools selected to participate are part of the Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, a head-start program in which students care for and observe a newly hatched terrapin they will ultimately release into natural habitat at the end of the school year.

All activities were made possible through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Nature of Learning grant. The Nature of Learning grant encourages educators to “use National Wildlife Refuges as outdoor classrooms to promote a greater understanding of local conservation issues.”

In all, the Aquarium engaged more than 100 students in climate change activities, while educating students on how to be stewards of the Chesapeake Bay.

You can too! The Aquarium offers habitat restoration opportunities to promote a healthy Bay. Sign up for one of our free events today! Together our actions and awareness will create a healthy environment for Maryland’s state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

Terrapin Tagging

Last week, the National Aquarium welcomed Dr. Willem Roosenburg, a professor from Ohio University, to Baltimore. As a renowned diamondback terrapin researcher, he was here to implant PIT tags under the skin of the juvenile turtle ambassadors from the Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program.

The passive integrated transponder device, or PIT tag, is a tiny chip the size of a grain of rice that allows Dr. Roosenburg and other researchers to track terrapin movements and life history in the Chesapeake Bay.  In most cases, the tag will stay with the terrapin for its entire life, allowing researchers to gather long-term data on individual terrapins and, eventually, draw conclusions about the broader terrapin population.

Dr. Willem Roosenburg and the National Aquarium team implant PIT tags to track their movements

Through the Terrapins in the Classroom program, students from 31 schools across Maryland contribute to this research by raising hatchling diamondback terrapins in their classroom. This “head start” protects the terrapins during their first year of life—the time when they are most likely to become a snack for a predatory fish, snake, or bird.

Once the terrapins are released, researchers can gather long-term data from the PIT tags

In early fall, biologists gather hatchings as they emerge from nests on Poplar Island and collect detailed data on each turtle as well as their nesting site. Aquarium staff then distribute a these terrapins to the lucky schools participating in the program. During the school year, students are charged with caring for their classroom terrapin and tracking his or her growth. At the end of the school year, the student caregivers will travel to Poplar Island to release the tagged terrapins at the site where they were collected. The hope is that Dr. Roosenburg and his field crew will recapture these terrapins in future years to document their continued growth and survivorship.

Through the Terrapins in the Classroom program, students contribute to cutting-edge research and create lasting connections with their terrapin. Though sad to say goodbye on release day, students are more acutely aware of the impact a changing environment will have on their terrapin. This direct connection to the Chesapeake Bay inspires more thoughtful choices and, hopefully, a lifetime of environmental stewardship.


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