diamondback02The diamondback terrapin turtle is one of a number of species that are critical to the health of our salt marsh.   They directly contribute to the health of the salt marsh by eating periwinkle snails.   The snails are a necessary part of the ecosystem helping breakdown some of the marsh grass thereby providing nutrients to other species.   But unchecked, they would consume enormous amounts of marsh grass virtually destroying the ecosystem.   A decline in the diamondback terrapin population is an early warning about the health of our salt marsh, like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”.  

Periwinkle snails munching on marsh grass

Two recent articles in local papers document recent declines in the population.   The Island Connection article provides extensive detail about the species and includes a description of the Town of Kiawah wildlife department’s efforts to monitor the turtle.   Sightings can also be logged online at the Carolina Herp Atlas, a project at Davidson University.   Kiawah and Seabrook are also home to extensive sea turtle projects, a separate but also threatened species.   The second article in the Post and Courier on Monday, October 7, 2013 describes another Davidson University research effort run by biologist Michael Dorcas.   The project is a continuation of an effort begun in 1983 to monitor the diamondback population around Kiawah Island.   The planned development on Sam’s Spit may be a problem for the diamondback terrapins.   TerrapinUMOn a lighter note, the diamondback is also the State reptile of Maryland and the University’s mascot, Testudo: “Fear the Turtle”.   For more information: SC Department of Natural Resources Diamondback Terrapin Working Group Wikipedia The World of the Salt Marsh book review

Healthy Johns Island marsh at high tide