SAVING DIAMONDBACK TERRAPINS
Diamondback terrapins are the wild jewels of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. With diamond-patterned shells and speckled skin, these stunning turtles are a keystone species in the salt marshes and mangroves where they live. They help keep these ecosystems healthy by eating marsh snails, which in high numbers can harm marsh grasses.
Terrapins struggle against myriad threats, from coastal development destroying their habitat to sea-level rise, which will transform coastal landscapes in the coming decades, wiping out key terrapin nesting sites. Poachers and commercial traders target these turtles for trade as pets — and for their meat.
But one of the greatest threats of all is needless drownings in blue crab traps. Lured in by bait, terrapins can’t escape to the surface to breathe. Just one lost or abandoned trap can kill dozens of terrapins over time, and fleets of active traps cause countless deaths every year, boosting terrapin declines and even erasing whole populations.
These drownings are completely avoidable with bycatch reduction devices, or BRDs, which attach to trap openings and stop most terrapins from entering. Rigorous scientific study confirms that they protect terrapins with little or no effect on crab haul. Using these inexpensive devices also makes blue crabs more bankable in an increasingly eco-conscious market.
A few states require BRDs, but terrapins still risk drownings across most of their range. That includes Florida, which has the greatest expanse of coastal habitat for diamondback terrapins — about 20% of their whole range.
In 2020 the Center and allies petitioned Florida to pass laws requiring BRDs on all blue crab traps in state waters. As a result, Florida wildlife officials proposed a BRD rule that December, and state commissioners unanimously voted to keep working on it.
The Center has also pushed for measures in North Carolina, which passed a BRD requirement in terrapin habitat along its coast.
The needless drowning of diamondback terrapins needs to stop. We’ll keep working to make sure these jewels of our estuaries have a fighting chance at a bright future.