Tacking Upwind

While the title of this may not relate directly to my project, I felt it was appropriate. This project has changed course several times, seemingly upwind, all while striving for the same goals: understanding the motivating factors that lead people to use or not use BRDs, understanding the public’s view of terrapins and other threatened marine life, and understanding some of the methods researchers use to track populations.

After my first blog post in May, a lot has happened. My advisor and I discussed how to proceed after my first unsuccessful trip out to Queen’s Creek neighborhood. We decided that unless I wanted to kayak the tributary and try and catch people on their docks, they wouldn’t admit to owning crab pots. We hadn’t expected these homeowners to be dishonest about whether or not they had or used crab traps, so it was a little disappointing. We decided that Tim Russell, who has contacts within the neighborhood and marina, would try his hand at talking up the BRD installation.

I’ve been spending some time in coastal Mississippi this summer working for an unrelated marine research lab. While the lab doesn’t do any terrapin research, being in that area and having some free time has allowed me to explore on my own. First, I tried the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which was nearly next door to campus. The first time I visited, I asked about local terrapin populations. The staff was very excited to have a visitor ask about terrapins! It turns out the local populations have plummeted in recent years, likely due to nest depredation, habitat reduction, and by-catch. Terrapins can live to 25 years old, but often face the aforementioned limitations in the wild. Often, sexual maturity is based on size, not age, but many individuals struggle to live long enough to reach sexual maturity, severely limiting the population. Females nest on land and need a sandy substrate to do so. They often lay 3-5 clutches per year, with each clutch containing an average of 5-10 eggs. The number of clutches and clutch size often vary depending on geographic location, with more clutches with fewer eggs in the south, and fewer clutches with more eggs in the north.

I volunteered with NPS interpretation department to learn about the outreach programs they do in the greater Gulf Coast community. First, I helped with a children’s program where we learned about birds. These programs could be a great way to deliver curriculum to kids and families in that region about crab traps and By-catch Reduction Devices, not to mention how to be good stewards of the environment. I also learned a little about how the National Park Service operates, along with its different departments. They have a biology/research department dedicated to public outreach and monitoring programs. Every weekday, pit traps are monitored on the barrier islands to check on local terrapin populations. When they find a terrapin, they often take field data such as measurements, a blood sample, and location data to help get a more detailed and accurate picture of the population. Every Sunday, NPS volunteers travel to East Ship Island, a very popular barrier island, to inform local visitors about nesting terns (shorebirds). This kind of public outreach could also be used to inform the public about by-catch on not only the recreational scale, but also commercially.

Next, someone in my lab suggested I contact someone with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, in Gulfport. I have contacted their Terrapin researcher and I’m hoping he can tell me a little more about terrapins in this area.


  1. Hey Ashley-

    I’m really sorry to hear that people weren’t as honest and open-minded about your project. It really shows how difficult it can be to shift public understanding and opinions. I was happy that the lab you visited was excited about your project! However, it sound like all in all your project was a personal success. You’ve learned a lot about conducting research, how to track populations of wildlife, and how to reach the public more effectively. I hope you continue your outreach work! 🙂

  2. Mary Shea says:

    Ashley, I so admire everything you’ve done with your project, especially that you just struck up conversations with watermen as you described in your last post! I was disappointed to hear that they weren’t optimistic about using BRDS because they aren’t mandated by law. The outreach you’ve done with kids sounds so valuable, though!

    I’m also curious about the differences in number and size of clutches. I wonder why it is more advantageous to have fewer clutches that are large in size in the north.

    I look forward to hearing what the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies can tell you about terrapins!