The diamondback terrapin is Kiawah’s only brackish water turtle. Diamondback terrapins can be found throughout the creeks and rivers surrounding Kiawah Island. Most of the time all you will see is a head sticking up above the water, though terrapins can also be seen sunning on creek banks and females will venture on land in the summer to lay eggs.These terrapins grow are usually between five to eight inches long (females are twice as big as males) and weigh between 0.5 lbs and 1.5 lbs. They get their name from the striking diamond-shaped pattern on their top shell. They are typically light brown or gray on top and yellow to olive on the bottom. Their whitish-gray skin is covered with unique black spots and wavy markings.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, terrapins were considered a culinary delicacy and terrapin soup was a common menu item in most fine restaurants along the Atlantic coast. For this reason, terrapin populations suffered a significant decline due to over-harvesting. As the taste for terrapin soup diminished, terrapin populations were able to rebound but they continue to face significant threats at the present time. One of the biggest threats to our local terrapin population is the accidental death of terrapins in commercial and recreational crab traps. Because of this threat a device, known as a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD), can be installed into the openings of crab traps to dramatically decrease the likelihood of terrapins being accidentally captured and drowned. Property owners and visitors alike are encouraged to utilize BRDs. If you already own a crab trap, you can take it to the Nature Center at Night Heron Park to be outfitted free of charge with a BRD. If you are planning to purchase a crab trap, ask your vendor if they have traps already fitted with BRDs.
Kiawah Island has been a focal point for terrapin research. Researchers have been capturing and marking terrapins in Kiawah creeks since 1984.
Photo by Pamela Cohen