Terrapin Nesting Project

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Special Achievement Award for Kathy Lacey and Terrapin Nesting Project

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 | Comments (0)

One night two summers ago, Kathy Lacey, a teacher from Pennsylvania, was tracking a Diamondback terrapin on the beach in New Jersey when she was approached by a concerned neighbor, who inquired of her business.

“I must have looked like a trespasser,” Kathy says. “Actually, I was! I'd been following a female for about 45 minutes and lost track of time and place. I told the women I was with the Sierra Club Terrapin Nesting Project, Drexel University, Earthwatch (all true) and my permit was on the car.”

She apologized for trespassing, then asked if she could stay until the turtle had laid her eggs. The neighbor not only said she could trespass all she wanted, she asked if she could watch her dig up the nest and tag the female. “Then she signed up to volunteer,” said Kathy. “You never know where the next volunteer will come from!”

While this particular volunteer recruitment may have been unusual, it was not surprising. Not to anyone who has seen Kathy Lacey work — after two years of the Terrapin Nesting Project, she and her hundreds of volunteers have turned Barnegat Light, on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island, into a veritable “Turtle Town,” engaging locals, tourists, students, and more in rescuing terrapin eggs from potential predators or poachers, and releasing them into the ocean once they’ve hatched.

“It's not unusual,” she says, “to see someone on the Bay Road stopping traffic to allow the safe passage of the females! The locals and the vacationers have gone from rarely acknowledging the terrapin to protecting it at any cost.”

She has introduced the Sierra Club to 200+ classroom students ages 5 to 21; 450+ children in outreach programs; 250+ parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, tourists, employees, and governments; 16 local businesses; the Garden Club of Long Beach Island, with its 250+ members; 400 homeowners and several real estate companies; the mayor; local law enforcement, State Park officials, Fish & Wildlife, and more

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The Terrapin Nesting Project was hatched, so to speak, In the spring of 2011, when Kathy Lacey applied (and was chosed) to participate in the Activist Network’s Marine Team Blue Vision Summit Lobby Event in Washington, D.C. Upon her return, inspired by the four days of education, networking, and lobbying, she organized a town meeting in Barnegat Light, where the terrapin lay their eggs. She got necessary permits, used the Club name, went to every business and posted signs with Club logo. More than 100 homeowners attended the meeting, and by season’s end, Kathy and the team of volunteers she recruited successfully released more than 200 hatchlings into the bay, the first new babies in the area in 20-plus years.

Kathy conceptualized, planned, recruited, motivated, trained, delegated, marketed, and in general went from an idea to full-blown hands-on reality.

The second year, with a $5,000 grant from the Activist Network, the project returned with 13 of the original volunteers back as leaders, and engaged more than 400 volunteers over the summer. They released 94 percent of the thousand-plus eggs in the nursery more of the community before Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the beach.

While the bulk of the project is hands on, they are also working to raise the awareness of the plight of the Diamondback terrapin, pushing for permanent removal of terrapins from the game species list. In March 2013, they achieved an important milestone, when the Diamondback Terrapins were adopted to CITES (Convention on Trade in International Endangered Species) Appendix 2. This will restrict the import and export of the terrapins.

Kathy and the Terrapin Nesting Project have not only accomplished real and significant conservation outcomes — safely rescuing and releasing thousands of terrapin hatchlings into the ocean (plus the recent CITES listing), they have also engaged hundreds of volunteers and students and business leaders, and raised the visibility of the Sierra Club.

Kathy’s experience as a teacher has served her well — she found opportunities for all levels of volunteerism — from spotting to tracking to stopping traffic, calling in trained volunteers, hanging posters, helping with beach clean ups, educating, checking the hatchery, releasing the hatchlings.

What has been especially impressive is how central training is to this project. Many of her volunteers have become leaders. All of her 13 core leaders are well-versed enough, she says, that any of them can give an impromptu "terrapin talk".

She has kept the community updated on the projects, through the businesses — posting weekly updates, with photos, in the local stores and businesses. Which has led to more volunteers who want to be part of this exciting project.

“Our most effective tactic is visibility,” Kathy says. “We are always on the job. We attract attention and others want to be a part of it. One of us is always reachable and can be at the site of a nesting terrapin within minutes.”

The Terrapin Nesting Project just released its last 21 hatchlings into the estuaries in Barnegat Light, bringing the final count for year to an even 1,300.

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