The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources efforts protecting the Diamondback Terrapin.
Diamondback terrapins are the only exclusively estuarine turtle found in North America. In the Lowcountry, they prefer brackish water and coastal tidal marshes, living among spartina grass. Diamondback terrapins don a variety of patterns. But, genetics data suggests that they are a single species (Malaclemys terrapin). Seven sub-species exist, generally corresponding to geographic regions between Texas and Massachusetts.
More than 100 years ago diamondback terrapins were highly abundant.
However, human harvest for food and use of their shells in jewelry nearly did this species in. Despite some protective regulations, diamondback terrapin populations remain at historically low levels. Estuarine pollution, highway mortality and drowning in commercial and recreational crab traps threaten the species. In South Carolina, diamondback terrapins are a “high priority” species for conservation in the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
The Marine Resources Division (MRD) of the Department of Natural Resources monitors and manages diamondback terrapins in South Carolina.
For the past two decades the MRD has collected some statewide population data, in addition to assisting with data collection for multiple graduate studies at the College of Charleston. Because of the cryptic nature of diamondback terrapins and the limited number of wildlife biologists available to study them, we greatly appreciate reports and photographs provided by “citizen scientists” regarding a wide range of terrapin sightings.
If you find an injured diamondback terrapin, please call the SCDNR Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-922-5431.