Diamondback Terrapins Need Your Support

by Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation urges you to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission by Friday, Feb. 28, to protect diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) from drowning as incidental catch in crab traps.

SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera submitted a letter this week supporting a petition requesting that the FWC require bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) on all commercial and recreational crab traps.

“As an organization conducting research on diamondback terrapins in our waters, we are very concerned with the unintentional, but preventable high rate of loss of these ecologically important jewels in Florida and throughout their range,” said Orgera.

Diamondback terrapins are a small brackish water (estuarine) species of turtle that are found in the same areas as crabs traps from Massachusetts to Texas, primarily in salt marshes, mangrove areas, and the coastal water.

Drowning in crab traps is a well-known threat to terrapins in many parts of their range and bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) are required in several states. Terrapins are lured into the trap by bait, along with the crabs, but have difficulty escaping and most often drown due to their dependence on breathing air. As many as 94 dead terrapins have been documented in one crab trap.

Live and dead terrapins are discarded as bycatch by crabbers and are rarely reported. By attaching these inexpensive BRDs to traps, most adult terrapins, especially females, will avoid entrapment. Another threat are ghost traps or abandoned traps that continue to catch terrapins for long periods of time, especially those without BRDs.

The scent of dead terrapins in these ghost traps continues to attract more terrapins and the cycle of drownings continue until the trap breaks down. Research has shown that approximately 72 percent of terrapins are prevented from entering traps with BRDs installed with no loss of crab capture.

Terrapins are a species of “highest conservation need” in Florida, which includes approximately 20 percent of their entire range. They are also listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). which means that terrapins are likely to become endangered if we don’t enact legislation to put an end to this highly preventable cause of death.

“Throughout their range, they are also threatened by habitat loss, primarily safe access to nesting areas due to roads, as well as poaching through the international pet trade,” said Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife and Habitat Management Director.

The FWC now has until next Friday, Feb. 28, to begin making regulations. If not, staff must provide a written reason why they won’t.

Let the FWC know you want BRDs by emailing FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton at executivedirector@fwc.com in support of the petition, which is co-signed by the Center for Biological Diversity and two research scientists who presented research calling for BRDs in 2007.

You can also send a letter to him:
Eric Sutton, Exec. Director
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. Learn more at sccf.org.

Leave a Comment

We are interested in articulate, well-informed remarks that are relevant to the article. We welcome your advice, your criticism and your unique insights into the issues of the day. To be approved for publication, your comments should be civil and avoid name-calling. It may take up to 24 hours for your comment to appear, if it is approved.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.