Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Terrapin Turtles

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Terrapin Turtles

Article excerpt

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers who are exploring strategies for conserving the Diamondback terrapin along Alabama's Dauphin Island coastline are working to keep the once-celebrated turtle off the endangered species list. The Diamondback terrapin has been a national delicacy, a source of state taxes, a casualty of commercial development, and a victim of new predators, but now its prospects are improved by a UAB-based turtle hatchery that may accelerate the growth of the fledgling population.

In 2006, a UAB research team began its examination of conservation and recovery strategies for the Diamondback terrapin in Alabama. After three years, Thane Wibbels and Ken Marion, both biology professors, and Andy Coleman, a doctoral student, concluded the species was fighting for survival. "This spring we began the captive rearing of the terrapin, opening up a hatchery at UAB," Coleman says. "With almost each weekly trip to Dauphin Island, we return to Birmingham with a new clutch of eggs. If we did not rescue them, raccoons would destroy as many as 90% of the eggs nesting naturally along the wetland beaches."

Commercial growth in the Dauphin Island area in recent decades has constricted the turtle population's habitat. New predators, such as raccoons, and threats, such as crab traps, also have been introduced into the environment. All of these factors have driven the animals to near-endangered species status, and losing the species could badly damage the local ecosystem by throwing the food chain out of whack. …

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