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Terrapin Survey

Project Status: Current

Each year, just as people are heading for the beaches, so are the female Diamondback terrapins. The terrapin lives in the Delaware Inland Bays, but the females lay their eggs in the soft sands of the beach dunes, and mid-May to mid-July is their nesting season.

Some are killed crossing Coastal Highway. Unfortunately, nearly all the terrapins that are killed are adult females. Because they can live for 25-30 years and can continue to reproduce for two decades, every female lost is also a loss of all her potential offspring. One solution is more sandy beach habitat on the Bays. But, these are becoming rarer and rarer as shorelines are hardened with bulkheads and stone. As an alternative to bulkheads and stone, the Center recommends installing a “living shoreline” that can reduce wave energy, trap sediment, and filter runoff, while maintaining (or increasing) beach or wetland habitat. Such habitat can protect Diamondback terrapin populations by providing areas for feeding and growth.

Diamondback terrapins are an important salt marsh predator and are an iconic species for the region. Little is known about their long term population status, and how that changes year to year and place to place. Terrapins also face a number of serious threats including habitat loss and collisions with motor vehicles. To answer questions about terrapin population status, and ultimately to help with conservation efforts to increase terrapin numbers the Center is beginning a citizen science-based survey to count terrapins annually at multiple locations throughout the bays.

Learn more about Diamondback terrapins and the importance of this work in the video below:

What’s it like to do a Survey?

Volunteers can perform surveys by kayaking a predetermined route (performed in pairs with another volunteer) or counting from a chosen land-based location. The survey can occur anytime from the last week of May through the second week of June but must be performed when weather conditions meet specific criteria for wind, cloud coverage, air temperature, and tide. All paddling routes are less than three miles round trip. Volunteers performing the paddling surveys must have their own kayaks and be comfortable paddling the chosen route without a guide. Observers will count the terrapin heads they see while performing the survey, and provide a GPS point for each terrapin (phone GPS points are accepted). Volunteers must attend training in order to participate in the survey.

Get Involved

This year because of the recent development of the COVID 19, the Center is launching a virtual Diamondback Terrapin Training to start our preparation for the survey season*. If you would like to participate in this year’s survey, it is as easy as following the steps below. We invite you to start watching the Diamondback Terrapin Survey Training. After watching the video you can complete all the required information to sign-up using the resources below. Thank you for your interest and support. We hope to see you soon!

*All Center survey activities are postponed until at least June 1st or until health and safety risks related to COVID-19 are resolved. 

STEP 1: Watch the Virtual Diamondback Terrapin Survey Training

Part 1


Part 2

STEP 2: Review the Frequently Ask Questions for the Diamondback Terrapin Survey

What is the difference between the land and water-based surveys?

In a land-based survey, you will stay in one spot and count the terrapins around you. In a water-based survey, you and a partner will use either a boat or kayaks to travel a pre-set route and count the terrapins you observe.

Where are the survey locations?

The survey locations can be viewed on the map below. There are 10 water-based locations and 12 land-based locations, all scattered throughout the Inland Bays.

When does the survey occur?

The survey will happen from May 25th through June 14th.

How long does each survey take?

It depends! Each land survey should take approximately 20 minutes, while each paddling survey
will take anywhere from 2-3 hours. This depends on the distance of your paddling site and how many terrapins you see.

Can I bring my kids or grandkids to a land-based survey?

Yes, but only for the land-based survey. If more than one person is going to participate in a
land-based survey, have each individual fill out a data sheet instead of completing one together.

Can I bring my kids or grandkids to a water-based survey?

Unfortunately no. To keep our methods consistent, we need to have the same number of eyes
looking for terrapins on each paddle route. So we limit each survey to two people in total.

Can more than one person/group survey a specific site?

Yes, ideally we will have multiple surveys from each location.

Do I need my own boat/kayak?

Yes, unfortunately, we are unable to provide boats or kayaks for the terrapin survey.

Can I survey more than one location?

Yes! The more the merrier, just be sure to complete each one within their respective tide windows.

What do I need to bring?

For our surveys we recommend that you bring a map of the survey location, data sheet, pencil or pen, clipboard, sunscreen, insect repellent, closed-toed shoes, and water. Binoculars or a spotting scope are necessary for the land-based survey and recommended for the water-based survey. In addition to these items, water-based surveyors are required to wear a life jacket. You will also need some form of GPS to mark where you spotted terrapins along the route.

What if I don’t have a GPS?

For this survey, your phone will do just fine as a GPS. You can find a variety of free applications on your respective app stores, such as this one for Apple devices, this one for Android, or this one for Windows phones.

STEP 3: Determine which type of survey works best for you, using the 2020 Diamondback Terrapin Protocol, Tide Calendars, and Survey Locations Maps.




STEP 4: Fill the sign-up form

STEP 5: Fill the 2021 Volunteer Liability Waiver*

Volunteer Waiver-Digital App

*It is needed for each individual or family member participating and it should be completed prior to your survey date. Please note: Individuals under the age of 18 must have an adult chaperone on-hand at all times.

STEP 6: Let’s count some Terrapins!

Thank you for your support of the Center’s mission. If you would like more information about other volunteer opportunities with the Center filled our Volunteer Application. Another way to support our mission is by donating HERE!

Complete the information above, even if the survey is not currently underway. You will be added to the mailing list and receive information prior to the next survey season. The season kicks off in April of each year, then runs from May to June. This survey is weather dependant and it does not have a set schedule with possible last-minute notices to participants.

Volunteer Resources/Documents


Terrapins Garden

The Center installed a turtle garden for nesting Diamondback terrapins located in Delaware Seashore State Park. The nesting site provides suitable habitat that will allow female terrapins to lay their eggs. The background of this project came from the understanding that suitable nesting habitats are difficult for terrapins to locate due to habitat loss and limited accessibility. Efforts have already been made in Delaware to bring attention to this species and implement ways to help limit roadway fatalities. In addition, this project will serve as an educational site for the general public to learn about the importance of this species and its role in the Inland Bays ecosystem. There has been reported success of this same project in New Jersey and we expect similar results in Delaware. For more information, visit our Terrapin Gardens project webpage.

Check out this cool article on
Terrapins featured in our Summer 2019 Inland Bays Journal!