Diamondback Terrapins

Diamondback Terrapin
Diamondback terrapin (Jackie Guzy photo)

Diamondback terrapins are North America's only exclusively estuarine turtle. They inhabit tidal creeks of the Eastern and Gulf Coasts where they have experienced range-wide declines due to a variety of activities associated with coastal development. Historically, this species was overharvested, but today, terrapin populations have experienced declines from the development of nesting beaches, road mortality, and accidental drowning in blue crab fisheries equipment. Consequently, diamondback terrapins have received international attention from conservation organizations and have been identified as a priority species throughout their range.

Since 1998, the Davidson College Herpetology Lab has collected data on a population of diamondback terrapins on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Initiated by Whit Gibbons (UGA's Savannah River Ecology Lab) in 1983, this long-term capture-mark-recapture study has documented a significant decline and even local extirpation from the first creek ever sampled by Whit Gibbons and his children. Our work at Kiawah Island continues to seek to understand the causes behind this decline in efforts to reverse this trend. We also seek to use this long-term data in addition to new data collection to understand more about the basic ecology of diamondback terrapins.