Volunteer paddlers to count terrapins at Masonboro Reserve

by Miriah Hamrick
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

A diamondback terrapin swims at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The N.C. Coastal Reserve and Wildlife Resources Commission will hold a Terrapin Tally at Masonboro Island Reserve on May 3.

Karen Dunn has never seen a terrapin turtle in the waters around Wrightsville Beach, although she paddleboards and kayaks the area regularly.

“I’m really quiet but for all the time I’ve spent in the water, I’ve never seen a terrapin,” Dunn said.

When Dunn heard about Terrapin Tally, a citizen science program at Masonboro Island Reserve where volunteers use smartphones to collect data on the reserve’s terrapin population, she was excited for the opportunity to slow down and focus on the turtles.

The event, planned by the N.C. Coastal Reserve and Wildlife Resources Commission, will take place May 3. 

Marie Davis, environmental educator with the reserve, said terrapins in North Carolina have barely been studied despite being dubbed a species of concern at the state and federal level.

“We hope this data will yield facts about the density of the terrapin population around the reserve. It will be a fun way to get out there and enjoy time on the water, plus contribute to scientific research,” Davis said.

Eligible volunteers must have a kayak or canoe and a smartphone to participate. Volunteers will be taught to sight terrapins at a training session before the event. Sessions are planned for April 5 and April 10 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Marine Science.

Davis said routes range from 2-6 miles, spanning as much of the reserve’s 8.4 miles between Wrightsville and Carolina Beach as possible. Volunteers have two hours to paddle their routes, which are scheduled in windows ahead of and behind the tide: 9-11 a.m. and noon to 2 p.m. An inclement weather day is scheduled for May 17.

The turtles mate in May, so Davis said they should be active in the water for either date. 

“Terrapins are a really interesting turtle that haven’t come on the radar for a lot of people here,” she said.

Davis said she hopes this event will spur public interest and generate other citizen science programs at the reserve. 

“This is an area we’re moving into, trying to get the public involved. It’s an opportunity for people to explore the reserve in a different way than they’re used to,” Davis said. 

Dunn said she was interested in similar programs in the future.

“I spend so much time on the water, it seems like a great thing to do,” she said.

Davis estimated about 10 volunteers are currently signed up. Teams of two are needed for 12 established routes.

For more information about volunteering, email Maggie Geck at ncnerr.volunteering@gmail.com.

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