by Stephanie Smith
April 21, 2017
A staff member from the National Aquarium holds a recently hatched diamondback terrapin during a visit to Poplar Island in August 2016. The turtle is one of several dozen that were raised at area schools in the Aquarium’s “Terrapins in the Classroom” program.
Through the program, hatchling diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are collected from Poplar Island and provided to students at Maryland schools to study and observe: monitoring their growth, examining their behavior and learning more about the species. The students grow and connect with the terrapins, while the young reptiles get an increased chance of survival.
The official state reptile of Maryland, diamondback terrapins live in the coastal marshes and mudflats of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. But the popularity of terrapin meat—particularly for dishes like terrapin soup—led to populations of the reptiles being decimated in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, many regulations are in place to protect terrapins, but nest predation, loss of habitat, boat propeller strikes and entrapment in crab pots continue to threaten the turtles. Terrapins in the Classroom works to bolster terrapin populations while giving young learners a unique role in conserving the species.
In late spring each year, students travel by boat to Poplar Island—located in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—to release the reptiles back into the marshes where they were hatched. From 2008 to 2016, more than 189 terrapins have been released into the wild.