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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Risking Life on the Parkway to Continue the Species 6.7.2006

By Al Campbell

EDGEWOOD – Alive, perhaps for the last fleeting moments, I spotted her.
 Scared and alone, she was in a totally hostile environment, not the safe, serene world of the marshes where small fish swim and noisy terns search for food. This inhospitable, threatening place had tons of metal zooming past at enormous speed, in comparison to her slow pace.
 She was a Diamondback terrapin, nameless and perhaps of little value to this world, but on a death-defying mission: Lay eggs to perpetuate the species.
 On June 1, as muggy temperatures here on the Jersey peninsula nudged amphibians and reptiles from winter-long slumber, that mother terrapin was spotted atop the Garden State Parkway overpass of old railroad tracks heading into Wildwood.
 It was nearly incomprehensible how that tiny, gutsy creature could possess such zeal as to climb a 35- to 40-foot embankment in search of a “safe” high place where she could dig a hole with her hind legs and deposit eggs.
 Because traffic soared northbound at 65-plus miles per hour, the encounter with that likely-doomed Diamondback terrapin, lasted but a split second.
 Hopeless, yes, still my heart went out to her. There she hunched, on the traffic side of the white shoulder line, withdrawn into her shell.
 “Move turtle, move,” I screamed to myself.
 In a line of racing cars, trucks, and buses, there was no such thing as a sudden stop to save a hapless creature  without taking  human life.
 Maybe that chance encounter was meant to serve as a warning for motorists to be alert for Diamondback terrapins. This is their season when grey-green females set about on far-flung missions to lay eggs, unaware of danger, with sole purpose in their brains.
 Dauntless, they cross barrier island causeways in search of high, dry ground in which to place eggs. Many females will die in that pursuit to continue life as they know it.
 Marine ecology and other students at the Wetlands Institute on Stone Harbor Boulevard have, in the past, undertaken a mission to scour seaside highways in search of injured or dead terrapins.
 Their hope is that they might at least retrieve eggs from crushed shells, which are then deposited in warm sand, hatched, and released when the Diamondbacks are yearlings, and stand a better chance of survival in the marine environment to which they are more accustomed.
 The terrapin season is imprecise, but usually lasts until about the first week in July. Much of the terrapins’ marshland movement depends upon temperature.
Contact Campbell at (609) 886-8600 Ext 28 or: al.c@cmcherald.com

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