Terrapin Hero: The Manual

Why did the Terrapin Cross The Road? Because he had to. Photo by Osprey Hero Ben Wurst
Why did the Terrapin Cross The Road? Because she had to. Photo by Osprey Hero Ben Wurst

If you happen to catch me on the beach during one of our major Summer Holidays, like the 4th of Ju-Fly or Labor Day, you’ll notice me sitting with my back to the Ocean. That’s because I don’t have the knowledge or skillz to save a drunken reveler from a rip tide, nor do I have the emotional fortitude to watch some guy and his girlfriend drown right after getting their faces smashed into the jetty on the busiest beach days of the year.

Preparedness is everything in dicey situations that require a quick response.

I’m not all that interested in reptiles. It often surprises people to learn that I’m not too interested in birds either. Don’t believe me? Come join Ben Wurst & I at the big Hiding In Plain Sight art show at the Ann Coen Gallery this Summer and try to tell me all about the Booby-Footed Tufted Birdus Regularis you saw in California last year. Watch my eyes glaze over as I quickly back away and pretend I need to use the toilet before I start snoring.

But what does interest me is my Island and the local animals that make it so special. To me, Piping Plover and Osprey are not birds; they are treasures of the Island. If they are not thriving here, then we are taking crappy care of the Island. At the simplest level, I’m motivated by self-interest. When we kill the local animals and make it impossible for them to live here, then we are doing the Island thing all wrong and are bound to suffer the consequences.

That’s why despite my lack of interest in reptiles, and my burning need to get to the Surfside Coffee Shop, STAT, I jammed my breaks on the Bouvy yesterday to make my first-ever Terrapin Rescue.

I probably would have totally botched it if I had not just read this awesome blog post put out by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ: Be Terrapin Aware. I highly recommend you give it a read. I’m a dedicated skimmer, and would never have the patience to read even my own blog posts here on the Readings. Thankfully, the CWFNJ has us covered and boiled down the key points into a bulleted list:

Stay safe. Never put yourself at risk. Make sure that you do not endanger yourself, or others, by walking into traffic.

Oops. Botched that one. I ran into the road waving my arms like a crazy person.

When safe to do so, pull your car over and onto the shoulder. Turn on your hazard signals.

Oops. Botched this one too, pulling over so quickly I almost got rear-ended by one of the 10-million over-packed “David Ash Landscape” trucks that account for over 40% of the Island’s traffic

When safe to enter the roadway, approach the turtle and pick it up by grabbing its shell with both hands between its front and hind legs. HOLD ON – Terrapins have strong legs!

Glad I had read this one. They are strong, so I was ready as the Terrapin’s adorable little feet tried to push my thumbs off.

It is important that you move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. They are not always headed directly towards water. They will turn around if you put them in the wrong direction, so work with their instincts.

This is the big one. This Terrapin was on the West side of the Boulevard, heading East. I would have just moved him back to the closest shoulder which would have done nothing. He would have come right back into the road after I left. So instead, I brought him across the road. Sure enough, he just kept marching East as if he just rode one of those airport walkways.

Place the terrapin off the road onto the soft shoulder (dirt or grass).

I was lucky to be in front of an empty lot in Loveladies. This might be challenging at other locations, but do your best.

If you have a GPS or a smartphone then record your location and submit your sighting on our website.

Botched it! Left the phone in the car. Hence, the photo from Ben Wurst used to illustrate this post. I did immediately txt Ben to brag about the save, because bragging about what a Hero you are is the best part for simple people like me.

Please do not move a terrapin long distances to “somewhere safe!” They have very small home ranges and moving them will only hurt them.

Glad I had read this point too. Walking the Terrapin across the road and dumping him near a driveway seemed far less instinctive then bringing him down to the bay or something.

Anyway, keep those eyes peeled and look for opportunities to be a Terrapin Hero this Summer. Prepare yourself by having a quick read of Be Terrapin Aware from the CWFNJ. You don’t have to care about birds & reptiles to help them. You simply have to love the Jersey Shore.