Snowstorms are a threat to coastal terrapins

 

SLAUGHTER BEACH — Why did the turtle cross the road?

Because his habitat has been destroyed and he’s trying to find shelter from predators and the cold.

For many Delaware residents the recent snowstorms have been disruptive.

But most people are simply inconvenienced by the weather. That means the impact pales in comparison to what it can do to wildlife.

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People at the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators are keeping an eye out for diamondback terrapins that may have hatched because of recent storm activity. This hatchling was recently found in the Port Mahon-Little Creek area. (Submitted photo/Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators)

Wind and waves have eroded large sections of the coast. Combined with the freezing temperature the wind and waves wreak particular havoc on diamondback terrapins.

Those turtles live along beaches by the coast. They’ve literally been left out in the cold as a result of the harsh storms that hit the First State over the past 18 days.

“We started receiving calls after that last snowstorm we had. And, apparently, what I’m hearing from residents at Slaughter Beach that the south end dunes have been breached and the northern ends … a lot of that seems to have washed away,” said Vickie Henderson, a member of the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators.

Volunteers who make up the organization work to take care of injured or stranded animals. In past weeks theyve have also been working hard to spread news of the turtles’ plight and help save the reptiles.

The council has been called by concerned citizens to assist at least nine turtles. While the majority were at Slaughter Beach, one was found at Port Mahon.

The terrapins have been hibernating. But the strong waves have washed away much of their habitat, especially during the Jan. 23 storm. Exposed not only to the elements but to predators, turtles are “easy pickings” for foxes, raccoons and predatory birds, Ms. Henderson said.

With many terrapins facing a hostile environment, help from nature-lovers can be the difference between survival and death for some.

“Warmth is the first step in the healing process for all turtles but if hypothermic, gradually bringing the body temp up is best,” Ms. Henderson wrote in a post on the council’s Facebook page.

Placing a turtle in a small amount of lukewarm water can allow it to slowly recover from the cold. However, good Samaritans should be careful to keep the turtle’s nostrils above water, she said.

Some turtles might have severe scratches or even a missing limb. In the event someone stumbles upon a damaged turtle, he or she should bandage the wounded area to try and stop the bleeding.

The helper also should remember to wear gloves or wash hands afterward, Ms. Henderson advised in the Facebook post.

The council has a veterinarian who has helped with injured turtles, conducting surgery when necessary. Not all terrapins have been lucky, however. At least one turtle with a damaged shell and limbs was unable to be saved by the council.

Anyone looking to help can explore the beaches after the tide goes out. Then call the council should exposed or damaged turtles be found.

Diamondback terrapins, known for their diamond-shaped shell patterns, grow up to 10 inches in length. They live in brackish water and often are found near beaches. So they are particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding and erosion.

While volunteers with the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators have been especially concerned with diamondback terrapins, other species can be affected by the snow. From rabbits to owls, animals can be injured or sickened during cold, snowy weather

Ms. Henderson advises concerned citizens to slowly approach an animal that appears to be injured. Then call a wildlife rescue group, such as the council.

Telephone numbers for the council are (302) 270-9256 or (302) 632-0304 in Kent, (302) 228-8733 in Sussex and (302) 834-4604 in New Castle.

“We’re fortunate we’ve had such a great response to the public, and it’s amazing what social media can do,” she said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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