Citizen scientists needed for the ninth annual Terrapin Tally

Published 7:09 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

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The NC Division of Coastal Management’s Coastal Reserve in partnership with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State Parks, Bald Head Island Conservancy, Audubon NC, NC Aquariums and National Park Service are recruiting volunteers to participate in the 2023 Terrapin Tally. This community science project, developed by the NC Coastal Reserve and NC Wildlife Resources Commission, was created to collect population data to better understand the status of diamondback terrapins in the state.

All volunteers must register to attend one training session, where they will learn how to use the smartphone application and sign up for one or more field data collection sessions scheduled May 4 through June 4.

Participants must have their own smartphone, kayak or canoe, and life jacket. Volunteers can learn more about the project and register at or contact with questions.

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“We have trained hundreds of volunteers and collected thousands of data points since the beginning of the Terrapin Tally in 2014,” says Elizabeth Pinnix, southern sites manager for the Coastal Reserve. “Volunteers are trained to document terrapin sightings while paddling prescribed routes through the marsh. This project provides a great opportunity to enjoy nature while contributing to science.” says Pinnix.

Diamondback terrapins are found in salt marshes, estuaries and mangrove swamps along the east and gulf coasts of the United States. This turtle is the only reptile that can tolerate brackish water environments, where salinity levels are constantly changing due to freshwater runoff from land mixing with saltwater from the ocean. Once historically abundant, habitat loss, coastal development, past commercial harvest and fishing interactions have all contributed to the decline of diamondback terrapins. As a species of special concern in North Carolina, monitoring provides valuable information about the status and distributions of the populations.

“We know relatively little about our populations of diamondback terrapins in North Carolina,” says Sarah Finn, biologist with North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “As a Species of Special Concern facing many threats, it is imperative that we conduct surveys to identify where populations occur. With continued surveys, we can begin to analyze population trends,” says Finn.

The data collected from the Terrapin Tally have contributed to new research projects and management decisions regarding diamondback terrapin populations that utilize the Masonboro Island Reserve.

“When we better understand how populations of diamondback terrapins are doing in our state, we can make more informed management decisions to protect terrapins,” says Finn. “For example, we can identify areas where terrapins are relatively abundant and recommend management actions for these areas.” says Finn.

The Terrapin Tally hosts routes spanning the coast from Carteret County to Brunswick County. The 2023 Terrapin Tally sites include Cape Lookout National Seashore, Rachel Carson Reserve, Calico Creek, Hammocks Beach State Park, Lea Hutaff Island, Masonboro Island Reserve, Ft. Fisher State Recreation Area, Zeke’s Island Reserve, Bald Head Island and Bird Island Reserve.

“We are excited to continue this project with the many dedicated volunteers and partners that have participated over the years. If you love being on the water and want to contribute to the conservation efforts for our favorite marsh turtle, we hope you will join us for the 2023 Terrapin Tally!” said Pinnix.