The goal of the Old Inlet Terrapin Habitat Enhancement Project is to restore nesting habitat for the Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin). The terrapins have a strong biological drive to lay their eggs, once they emerge from the brackish waters of our inland bays and creeks. For centuries, their path to the soft sandy dunes of Delawares' beaches was unimpeded. As the human population grew in and around the resort communities in Southern Delaware, they brought roads and motor vehicles with them. By the beginning of the 21st century the unnatural deaths of terrapins had risen to staggaring proportions. Our concept was to restore the habitat that once existed on the west side of Delaware State Highway Route 1, so that the nesting females as well as the hatchlings could navigate the land crossing to their home in the brackish waters of our state, without the added peril of automobiles.
Diamond-backed terrapins are brackish-water turtles that spend most of their lives in the water, coming out on land primarily to bask or lay eggs. The journey between the high, dry land to the marsh creeks often require traversing roads or highways that bisect habitat, unnaturally increasing the mortality of turtles during the most critical phases of their life cycle. Female diamond-back terrapins leave tidal marshes each spring, typically from late May to mid-July in search of suitable upland habitat to lay eggs. Suitable habitat is any open upland area above the reach of the highest tide with areas of exposed sand or soil. Eight to ten ping pong ball sized eggs are deposited in a nest excavated in the soil to a depth of about five inches. Depending on soil temperatures, eggs generally hatch sixty days after laying. Hatchlings must them traverse the same roads or highways back to the water. The 6.2 acres of upland at the Old Inlet RV Park site is currently of very low quality as terrapin nesting habitat. Currently 4.4 acres is managed as mowed grass. While the site does consist of turf mixed with sizable bare sandy areas, the land is occasionally flooded by full and new moon high tides and storm tides. This project would deposit clean fill material on the 4.4 acres of the site that are currently being managed as mowed grass and graded for habitat enhancement. This will provide alternative nesting habitat for the terrapins that does not require traversing highways or roads.
We chose this project as the first initiative for the DE CWRP because it was determined that this could be a project where we brought a great deal of benefit to an aquatic specices, improve habitat in the lower part of the state, and in doing so teach citizens about the terrapins, possibly reducing unnatural deaths during the nesting season.