The Terrapin Nesting Project

Sponsored by the Sierra Club and partnered with the Turtle Conservancy

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Text Kathy at: 215-495-2431

The History of the Terrapin Nesting Project

Although the Terrapin Nesting Project (TNP) may have officially begun in 2011, it was an idea stirring within the founder, Kathy Lacey, for awhile.  She knew it was something she needed to do not just for the terrapins and the ecosystem but for herself.  She needed something to strive for, to get back on track, a goal….here is her story.


In February 2009, Kathy was diagnosed with HER 2 Positive Breast Cancer. Luckily it was caught early, however the next 18 months were hectic and grueling with chemotherapy, lumpectomy and radiation.  By late summer Kathy was cleared of the disease so she and her husband Tom took a much needed vacation to the Barnegat Light section of Long Beach Island (LBI), New Jersey.  Having grown up on the island, Kathy along with Tom, both amateur herpetologists, had sadly noticed the serious decline in the population of Diamondback Terrapins.  It was at that moment she knew she had to do something.  As they say ‘timing is everything’.


In January 2011, the Sierra Club was recruiting members to represent them at the ‘Blue Vision Summit’ in Washington, D.C. to promote ‘The President’s National Ocean Policy’.  With support from her husband, Kathy submitted her plans for the Terrapin Nesting Project (TNP):  build a small hatchery, relocate eggs laid in unsuitable areas, monitor the nests, release the babies back to the marshes, educate the community and build a volunteer network.  As the grant process persisted Kathy got right to work obtaining 

permits, locating a suitable hatchery, finding a place to stay, recruiting volunteers, and obviously tracking the “girls” (Kathy’s pet name for the female Terrapins).  With the hard work, support and encouragement of so many incredible people in the community, Kathy and team relocated 221 eggs with an amazing birth rate of 94 percent producing babies that were released back into the marshes.  From that point forward and with a grant from the Sierra Club, the TNP was on its way to rescue the Diamondback Terrapins on LBI.


The 2012 season started off with a few surprises. The first was some good news from the Garden Club of LBI who gave a donation to the TNP to erect turtle signs along the roadway to raise public awareness.  The second came when a local family offered to build a 10 x 10 foot hatchery to protect the relocated nests from raiders such as raccoons, fox, crows, and possum.  Finally, as the news of Kathy’s efforts spread, the community responded by helping the “girls” cross the road, tracking them to their nesting sites and notifying Kathy of their whereabouts so she could decide if the eggs need to be relocated.  At the end of our 2012 season, 1,023 out of 1,084 eggs were successfully incubated, hatched, and released.


Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach Island on October 29, 2012 and we all were not sure what happened to the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’.   So many wonderful people volunteered to look for them.  They found many disoriented terrapins on the ocean side of the island, dehydrated and confused.  Many of them had died or were seriously injured.  Those healthy enough were released back in the bay and some needed a little extra care.  The good news was that at least our hatchery was fine and by June 8th the first nest was laid. The Garden Club also gave us another generous donation to replace the signs that got swept away during the storm.  Kathy expanded the project to the Holgate section of the island, and by the end of our 2013 season 1,300 eggs were successfully incubated, hatched, and released.  Considering the devastation brought on by “Superstorm Sandy”, achieving a 90 percent success rate was truly amazing and reflective of the dedication displayed by Kathy, her troop of volunteers, and the community. 


As you can see every year is different, learning more, reaching more people and leaving more nests outside the hatchery (natural nesting sites) but most of all teaching is at the core.  The community dedication to the TNP has allowed us to release over 6000 hatchlings since we started.  There are many wonderful volunteers that Kathy is so grateful for and she thanks everyone who is involved in the project.  The TNP will continue to protect the nesting terrapins (our “girls”), their eggs, and their hatchlings on Long Beach Island now and into the future.