Since what family we are born to is a life factor out of our control, it is an incredible blessing to be a part of one that you would have chosen, if you’d been given the chance to do so.
Last weekend when my sister and her daughter were heading out for some surf fishing in the Barrier Islands in Jersey, they came across one of the local Diamondback Terrapins who had been struck by a car. Although it looked badly hurt, they could see it was still alive – so they carefully picked it up while my mom contacted the Wetlands Institute of Stone Harbor, NJ to see if there was anything they could do to help.
The Institute is a place my parents took me to many times throughout my childhood, dedicated to education about and conservation of both of the local wildlife and ecosystem of the New Jersey Barrier Islands. They are the people behind numerous local campaigns encouraging visitors to assist the turtle population when they’re attempting to get across roads or return horseshoe crabs to the sea when the tide washes them up or flips them over. I fondly remember many summers learning there about the balance of life on the islands as they struggled to conserve it against the rising tide of tourism. This was reflected in my parents teaching us that the dunes were a natural barrier to protect the land from the tide waters, not a place to be worn down by our playing on them. In my Mother’s insistence that each and every turtle we find be given a lift to its intended destination, and my father teaching me how to properly fish the waters of Ludlam Bay, throwing back every catch that was so much as a fraction under the keeper limit so as to keep the population properly sustained.
The people at the Institute gladly offered to take the injured turtle from my family’s care, so they drove it down to Stone Harbor. Although my Mom gave them her contact information, she didn't really expect to hear anything back from them about the patient.
Today, she received the following email:
Dear Mrs. Mair,
We used antibiotic ointment and surgical tape to stabilize the injuries of the terrapin you brought in on Sunday. It was still conscious and aware of its surroundings Sunday evening, and we were hoping she would remain stable until we could transfer her to a veterinarian on Monday. Sadly, by early Monday morning she had passed away. On the positive side, we were able to extract 12 eggs from her, and those are currently in an incubator here at The Wetlands Institute. If all goes well, they should hatch in late August or early September. The hatchlings will be then be moved to Stockton College, where they will be given warm conditions and all the food they want over the winter (we call it “head-starting”). Next spring the young female terrapins will be released into the marshes where we hope they will thrive. I’m sorry we couldn’t save the female you brought in, but rest assured her offspring will be out there next summer and will hopefully take her place in the breeding population in a few years.
Coastal Conservation Research Program
The Wetlands Institute
The main reason these animals go into the road and get hit is because they’re climbing up on land to lay their eggs in dry sand. When one dies, you don’t just loose the adult but an entire clutch of the next generation as well.
I was so sad at first, but then so uplifted to discover that because of my family and the talented and caring staff at the Institute, an entire nest who would have been lost will survive to become the next generation. One human nearly took away that chance, but others gave it back to them again. Come springtime, thanks to the people I love, they’ll swim, grow, hunt, find mates and one day make their own perilous journey to begin the cycle anew once more.
Some days, some people make it easier to believe in hope for us all.