After hundreds of baby turtles were rescued from underground storm drains, one college campus is now home to over 1,000 of the small creatures.
According to a Facebook post on the Stockton University page, the New Jersey school’s vivarium is now host to 1,113 Diamondback terrapin hatchlings now thriving in their care, thanks to the sharp eyes of Ocean City residents Marlene Galdi and Joanne Freas.
The two were on the lookout for terrapins that often need human assistance crossing the street and making it over tall curbs. Galdi told Stolkton University News that as they were helping them on the street, she realized there were smaller ones still inside trapped underground.
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“As we passed the storm drains, we noticed that there was activity in them,” Galdi told the university outlet. When we looked closer, we saw that there were baby terrapins swimming in the storm drains.”
Galdi and Freas managed to make their own custom scooper with a net and bamboo pole before transporting them to John Rokita, Assistant Supervisor to the lab, and the vivarium he helps run, the Facebook post reported.
Rokita told Newsweek that his lab has been taking in terrapins for decades, usually through the Head Start program partnership with The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor.
“Interns go out into the field during the nesting season of Diamondback terrapins, … when they come above the high-tide line in a place to put their nest,” he explained. “Unfortunately, a lot of the nesting females get hit by cars.”
“So the ones who do not survive are brought back into the lab, they’re dissected open. If they have any eggs that are intact, we dissect them, clean them up and put them in incubators for roughly 60 days,” he noted.
More recently, the volunteer efforts of good samaritans like Galdi and Freas have brought an influx of “spring emerger” turtles, who spend the winter in their nests.
“They’re just surviving off yolk sacks that they’re born with until springtime,” he told Newsweek. “So even though they hatched last year, they don’t come to the surface until the following spring.”
Between the Head Start program and spring emergers, Rokita’s latest headcount placed 1,113 turtles in the lab’s care. At the time of the lab’s announcement on Facebook last week, they had 826.
Stockton University News reported that the hatchlings typically spend a year with Rokita, or until water temperatures warm up and they grow three to four inches. The recent chilly weather the northeast has faced has delayed their release.
Rokita also told Newsweek that each day starts with an overview of the turtles, to make sure there are no injuries or infections that need to be addressed. They also are given a well-balanced diet of “commercially pelleted foods,” and prior to “graduating” from the lab they are microchipped.
“We’ve gotten some returns from nesting females that were raised as Head Starters several years ago,” he recalled.
Rokita also shared with Newsweek that prior to COVID-19 restrictions, the ultimate release of the terrapins in their care was an educational opportunity for school kids in the area.
“Kindergarteners who learned about terrapins during the school year … got the chance to release one terrapin,” he said. “We march ’em out to the wetlands and they all get to release a terrapin back into the wild.”
While the annual tradition was skipped last year for safety reasons, he is hopeful a scaled-back version could come to fruition for this year, although no plans have yet been finalized.
Rokita also noted that should individuals come across a terrapin of their own, they may be able to care for it themselves.
“If you do find terrapins in the roadway, and it seems healthy other than it lost its way, we always say to keep it in a little container of fresh water and to release them at dusk, because avian predators will be done for the day,” he said.
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