Bodrey, R.1; O'Connor, R.2; Jackson, S.3; Chris Verlinde4; Erik Lovestrand5; Laura Tiu6
1Agent II-(CED), UF/IFAS Gulf County, Wewahitchka, FL, 32465
2Agent II-Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Escambia County, Cantonment, FL, 32533
3Agent IV-(CED & RSA) Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Bay County, Panama City, FL, 32401
4Agent II-Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Santa Rosa County, Milton, FL, 32570
5Agent II-(CED & RSA) Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Franklin County, Apalachicola, FL, 32320
6Agent II-Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Walton & Okaloosa Counties, DeFuniak Springs, FL, 32433


Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are the only brackish water turtles in the United States. These terrapins inhabit coastal marshes and mangroves from Cape Cod MA to Brownsville TX. The population status of this animal has changed over time with commercial harvest, incidental take in the blue crab fishery, and loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development.  Many become roadkill on highways, drowned in crab pots, and up to 90% of their nest are depredated by the raccoon (and other animals).  Today the illegal pet trade has added extra pressure to indigenous populations. Within this range there is a large knowledge data gap concerning their status in the Florida panhandle.  It is not known how frequently they are nesting, if populations are stable, or if there are issues with derelict fishing gear and illegal harvest. This is a national and state concern.

In response to the knowledge gap, Natural Resource Extension Agents with the University of Florida IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant program in the Florida panhandle have partnered with USGS to develop the Panhandle Terrapin Project. The goal of this project is to train citizen science volunteers to survey known, and potential, nesting beaches for the frequency of nesting, predation of those nests, number of individual heads found in the lagoons, and assist the USGS with mark-recapture of these animals.  UF IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant conducts volunteer trainings in March, as volunteers survey their assigned beaches from April 1 to September 30.

Citizen science surveys began in 2015 and continue. UF IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant has trained 72 volunteers to monitor terrapin activity. During that time, volunteers have been able to (1) determine that terrapins do exist in each of the panhandle counties, (2) identified 5 nesting beaches in two of the six counties surveyed, (3) were able to capture, mark, and collect tissue samples from two animals.  To date, a total of 27 trainings have occurred with 576 surveys conducted. Volunteer data collection continues so that federal and state natural resource managers have a long-term dataset for critical management planning.


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