How Are the Terrapins Doing in 2022?

How Are the Terrapins Doing in 2022?

Since 2005 we have been tracking and monitoring diamondback terrapins in the Florida panhandle.  For those of you who are not familiar with the animal, it is a turtle in the family Emydidae.  Emydid turtles include what we call “pond turtles” and also include the box turtles.  Terrapins differ from the others in that (a) their skin is much lighter, almost white, and (b) they like salt water – more accurately, they like brackish water. 

Diamondback terrapin (photo: Molly O’Connor)

The animals range from Massachusetts to Texas and within this there are seven subspecies.  Five of these live in Florida, and three only live in Florida.  In the Florida panhandle we have two subspecies: the Ornate terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin macrospilota) and the Mississippi terrapin (M.t. pileata).  It is believed the that the Mississippi terrapin only exist in Florida within Pensacola Bay – more on that in a moment. 

Image provided by FWC

There are literally no peer reviewed publications on terrapins from the Florida panhandle… none.  And this was how the Panhandle Terrapin Project began.  The first objective for the project was to determine if terrapins even existed here.  We began surveying for evidence of terrapins in 2005 using students from Washington High School in Pensacola.  The project quickly fell to myself and my wife due to the best time to do terrapin surveys was May and June.  And the worst time to work with high school students was May and June.  Between 2005 and 2012 we were able to verify at least one terrapin record in each of the panhandle counties.  Yes… terrapins exist in the Florida panhandle. 

The second objective was to assess their population status.  To do this we used what I call the Mann-Method.  Tom Mann, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, had developed a method of using nesting surveys to estimate relative abundance of terrapins within a population.  Terrapins tend to have strong site fidelity – they are “home bodies” – and do not move from marsh to marsh.  If you can find their marsh, you can find their nesting beaches.  If you can find their nesting beaches you can use the Mann-Method to assess their relative abundance. 

Tracks of a diamondback terrapin. Photo: Terry Taylor

There are a couple of assumptions with the Mann-Method.  (1) You are assuming every female in the population nest every year – we are not sure that is true.  (2) You are assuming that each female will lay more than one clutch of eggs each season – we do believe this is true.  (3) You are assuming that each female will not lay more than one clutch in a 16-day period – we are not sure this is true.  (4) You know where all of the nesting beaches are – we are not sure we do.  (5) The sex ratio of male to female is 1:1 – we are sure that is not the case.  One study suggested that in the panhandle the ratio may be 1:3 in favor of males, another suggested 1:5 in favor of males. 

Based off this model, and its assumptions, during a 16-day period of the nesting season, each track/nest would be an individual female.  Using 1:1, 1:3, and 1:5 as your sex ratio you can get an estimate of relative abundance. 

Another method for estimating relative abundance is counting the number of heads in a 30-minute period.  It is understood that if I see different heads during periods of the survey, I may be seeing the same head, but the argument is that if I typically see 10-15 heads during a 30-minute and over time that becomes 15-20, or 20-25, the relative abundance of terrapins is increasing – and visa versa.  

A terrapin swimming near but not entering a modified crab trap. Photo: Molly O’Connor

And we now have a third and fourth objective.  A third objective is to capture animals to place tags on them.  Doing this can give us a better idea of how these terrapins are using the habitats in the panhandle, how far they may travel and how they are getting there.  The fourth objective is to obtain tissue samples for genetic analysis.  The purpose of this is to determine whether the populations in Pensacola Bay are Mississippi terrapins, Ornate terrapins, or hybrids of the two. 

Since 2015 this work is now being conducted by trained volunteer citizen scientists – people like you – and we do the trainings in March if interested. 

So… how did things go in 2022? 

In 2022 we trained 47 volunteers to be survey beaches.  25 (53%) participated in at least one survey. 

173 surveys were conducted between April 2 and July 31 at 14 nesting beaches between Escambia and Bay counties.  Encounters with terrapins, or terrapin sign, occurred during 43 of the 173 surveys (25%) and three terrapins were captured for tissue and tagging. 

Escambia County

Number of SurveysDatesNumber of Surveys / Day
29Apr 3 – Jul 310.2
Number of EncountersFrequency of EncountersHeads / 30-minutesEstimated Relative Abundance
4.18No surveys conducted4-12

Santa Rosa County

Number of SurveysDatesNumber of Surveys / Day
58Apr 4 – Jul 50.6
Number of EncountersFrequency of EncountersHeads / 30-minutesEstimated Relative Abundance
15.26N=2, 0-49, X = 2430-90

Okaloosa County

Number of SurveysDatesNumber of Surveys / Day
43Apr 18 – Jul 150.5
Number of EncountersFrequency of EncountersHeads / 30-minutesEstimated Relative Abundance
25.58N=17, 0-32, X = 1130-90

No surveys were conducted in Walton County

Bay County

Number of SurveysDatesNumber of Surveys / Day
43Apr 2 – Jun 300.5
Number of EncountersFrequency of EncountersHeads / 30-minutesEstimated Relative Abundance
0.00No surveys conducted0

Summary of 2022 Terrapin Season

Surveys of nesting beaches occurred in four of the five counties in the western panhandle. 

Terrapins were encountered in each of these cand captured in two of them. 

The relative abundance ranged between 0 (Bay County) to between 30-90 individuals (Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties) and was about 64-192 animals for the entire western panhandle (depending on the sex ratio you use). 

We are sure that we have not found all of the nesting beaches in this region and will continue to look for more. 

We are awaiting results from the tissue sampling to determine whether we have a distinct population of Mississippi terrapins in Pensacola Bay, but more samples will be needed. 

We need to place satellite tags on some females to get a better idea of how they travel through the system. 

And our relative abundance numbers suggest that populations in the Florida panhandle are relatively small compared to others within the terrapin range. 

More needs to be done and we will continue to survey each spring.  If you are interested in becoming a member of the Panhandle Terrapin Project, contact me (Rick O’Connor) at

Panhandle Outdoors Live! at St. Joseph Bay Rescheduled for September 28th

Panhandle Outdoors Live! at St. Joseph Bay Rescheduled for September 28th

The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Conservation lands and aquatic systems have vulnerabilities and face future threats to their ecological integrity.  Come learn about the important role of these ecosystems.

The St. Joseph Bay and Buffer Preserve Ecosystems are home to some of the one richest concentrations of flora and fauna along the Northern Gulf Coast. This area supports an amazing diversity of fish, aquatic invertebrates, turtles, salt marshes and pine flatwoods uplands.

This one-day educational adventure is based at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve near the coastal town of Port. St. Joe, Florida. It includes field tours of the unique coastal uplands and shoreline as well as presentations by area Extension Agents.


Registration fee is $45.

Meals: breakfast, lunch, drinks & snacks provided (you may bring your own)

Attire: outdoor wear, water shoes, bug spray and sun screen

*if afternoon rain is in forecast, outdoor activities may be switched to the morning schedule

Space is limited! Register now! See below.

Tentative schedule:

All Times Eastern

8:00 – 8:30 am  Welcome! Breakfast & Overview with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension

8:30 – 9:35 am Diamondback Terrapin Ecology, with Rick O’Connor, Escambia County Extension

9:35 – 9:45 am  Q&A

9:45- 10:20 am The Bay Scallop & Habitat, with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension

10:20 – 10:30 am Q&A

10:30 – 10:45 am Break

10:45 – 11:20 am The Hard Structures: Artificial Reefs & Marine Debris, with Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension

11:20 – 11:30 am Q&A

11:30 – 12:05 am The Apalachicola Oyster, Then, Now and What’s Next, with Erik Lovestrand, Franklin County Extension

12:05 – 12:15 pm Q&A

12:15 – 1:00 pm Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 pm Tram Tour of the Buffer Preserve (St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Staff)

2:30 – 2:40 pm Break

2:40 – 3:20 pm A Walk Among the Black Mangroves (All Extension Agents)

3:20 – 3:30 pm Wrap Up

To attend, you must register for the event at this site:

For more information please contact Ray Bodrey at 850-639-3200 or

It’s Been a Terrific Terrapin Season So Far

It’s Been a Terrific Terrapin Season So Far

As the Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County, one of my program areas is to help restore a healthy estuary.  To do this we focus on educating the public how to improve water quality, restore habitat, and manage invasive species, but we also focus on how to monitor fish and wildlife.  The fish and wildlife I focus on are those that were once common in the bay and are trying to make a comeback – such as scallops and horseshoe crabs.  But there is another estuarine creature we are interested in that does not fall into the classic “bring them back” model and that is the estuarine turtle known as the diamondback terrapin.

The diamondback terrapin.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

Unlike scallops and horseshoe crabs, this is not an animal that people remember as a kid.  In fact, very few Floridians in the panhandle have ever heard of it.  Some older distribution maps of their range show that they exist from Cape Cod MA to Brownsville TX, but with a gap in the Florida panhandle.  That was because there was no scientific literature of the animal’s existence here.  And that was when the Panhandle Terrapin Project began – to confirm whether or not terrapins existed here.


In 2005, working with students at Washington High School in Pensacola, we began our search by placing “Wanted Posters” at boat ramps in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties near good terrapin habitat, which is salt marsh.  We began to get calls almost right away, but for a variety of other turtle species.  Folks were calling us with photos of box turtles, yellow-bellied sliders, and cooters.  It showed there was interest in the project but was evident they were not familiar with the terrapin.

Around 80% of the terrapin nests are depredated by raccoons, or some other predator.
Photo: Bob Blais

Volunteers log the number of female tracks they see on their beaches.
Photo: Cindy Marvel

I interviewed several ole gill netters to see if they remember ever capturing them – same response, “I never heard of those”.  I did show one gill netter a photo and he responded – “you know, I think we did catch a couple of these”.  But no confirmation of their existence here.  It was time to begin searching ourselves.


The team began to survey good terrapin habitat and walking potential nesting beaches looking for any evidence.  We did not find it.  Then one day in 2007 a gentleman working on a construction site responded to one of our “Wanted Posters”.  He said he had seen one of our terrapins.  After all of the calls that led to other species, I was not so sure – but he convinced me it might be.  So, we checked it out.  The sign was placed in good habitat and there were potential nesting beaches nearby.  We searched… and we found.  What we found were nests that had been depredated by raccoons.  There were empty eggshells laying around and two dead hatchlings.  There were also tracks in the sand.  Confirmation… there were terrapins here!


It was now time to take the show on the road and see if terrapins exist in other counties along the panhandle.  My wife and I would take part of our summer vacations and camp along the coast searching.  We found at least one record of a terrapin in each of the counties between the Alabama state line and Apalachicola River.  All of this was presented to the Florida Diamondback Terrapin Working Group of which there are members from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  Word was out.

Terrapins prefer sandy beaches and lay their eggs during daylight hours.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

A terrapin hatchling.
Photo: Molly O’Connor












The next step was to assess their status.  How many are here and how are those populations doing?


We did this by following a method developed by Tom Mann with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife.  Tom was monitoring terrapins in that state and the subspecies he worked with, the Mississippi Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin pileata) was the one that was thought to be in Pensacola Bay.  So, it was Tom’s method we decided to follow.  This includes walking nesting beaches and logging individual tracks and depredated nests in 16-day cycles.  Tom’s model assumed that all mature females in the population nest each season and that they do not lay more than one clutch in a 16-day period.  The idea is that each track and nest represented one female, and assuming the sex ratio of male to female is 1:1, doubling the number of tracks and depredated nests found in that period would give an idea of how many adult males and females are in this group.  Seemed easy enough so these surveys became part of our project.


Another method learned by attending conferences was a 30-minute head count.  If you can find the lagoons where the terrapins actually live you can sit and count the number of heads you see in a 30-minute period.  It is true that 23 heads does not mean there are 23 terrapins, but the relative abundance can be monitored.  If you typically see 20-23 heads and over time that decreases to 11-15, then the relative abundance is declining.  It is a method that citizen science volunteers can do and so was included in the project.

Modified crab traps is one method used to capture adults.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

A diamondback terrapin being measured and marked before release.
Photo: Rick O’Connor











We also wanted to try and capture individuals to mark and tag.  Mark recapture is a method used to estimate populations but capturing terrapins has been historically difficult to do.  Several methods have been used by members of the Working Group and we have tried them as well.  We have captured terrapins, but very few.


In 2018 the Team partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to increase the robustness of the project.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission became interested in tissue samples from captured animal to study the genetics of the terrapins in this area.  Since 2015 we have trained 228 individuals to conduct surveys, and some have been with me that entire time.  Many of them have spent countless hours helping assess the status of this animal in our bays.  Many days they see nothing.  Others a few tracks or depredated nests.  Some locations have good luck with head counts, but many of them finding nothing.

The Mississippi terrapin found in Pensacola Bay is darker in color than the Ornate terrapin found in other bays of the panhandle.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

This terrapin has the coloration of the Ornate terrapin but was found much further west than the literature suggest it lives.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

I keep track of “Frequency of Occurrence” (FOO) – the number of surveys where some sort of terrapin encounter happens.  This encounter can be as simple as a track in the sand, but they had SOME encounter.  It is my hope that over time encounters with them will increase, just as I hope it does with scallops and horseshoe crabs.  Since 2007 the FOO has ranged from 12-86% of the surveys conducted, with an average of about 25%.  The best year was 2011 (86%), just after the Deepwater Horizon spill.  There was a steady increase in FOO from 2007 to 2012 when it took a significant drop.  However, this is not because the relative abundance of terrapins suddenly dropped.  2012 was the year I moved from the marine science program at Washington High School to Florida Sea Grant Extension.  There were all new volunteers and the learning curve started over.  They were not as good at detecting them as the previous group.  But that is changing.  2022 is looking to be a busy year for the team.


So far this year we have seen terrapin activity on almost every nesting beach between here and Apalachicola.  One site had 49 heads in a 30-minute head count!  There have been several active nests, numerous tracks, and plenty of depredated nests.  In addition, we have found one dead hatchling and captured two adults. Tissue from these have been collected for the genetic study.  But the strangest story this year… a security guard has told us of terrapin hatchlings that have been dropped on their guard shack by birds.  Sea birds are known to do this to try and crack open shells of mollusk so they can feed on them.  I have never heard of this with terrapins, not here or anywhere.

A dedicated volunteer is rewarded with a capture.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

It seems it is going to be a terrific year for the terrapin project this year.  It is exciting for our volunteers to have so many encounters and nice to know that the public is becoming more familiar with this animal.  I cannot say whether the population is increasing or not but our knowledge, understanding, and encounters are.

Box Turtle Reproduction, Home Range and Lifespan

Box Turtle Reproduction, Home Range and Lifespan

Box Turtle. Photo Credit J.D. Willson, University of Georgia

Growing up, or even as an adult there is something exciting about seeing a turtle on the road! We always want to stop and check it out or even help it across. Box Turtles are common in all parts of the southeastern United States. There are four subspecies of box turtles that can be found east of the Mississippi River. Here are three interesting topics about our common box turtles:


With spring in the air and the temperatures rising, they are on the move. There movement is in part due to spring being the beginning of their mating season. In the southeast males and females will mate from spring into the fall. Males will mate with one or multiple females. Amazingly females can lay fertile eggs up to four years following one successful mating! Normal incubation of the eggs typically takes three months.


Box turtles are well developed at birth. As soon as the hatch the start to mature and will grow at a rate of about ½ an inch per year for the first five years. While growth slows dramatically after that, they will continue to grow until they are about 20 years old.  It is believed that some box turtles will live to be over 100 years old.

Home Range

While our box turtle friends live a long time, they are homebodies! Their entire home range is typically 250 yards in diameter or less. It is normal to see an overlap of home ranges for box turtles, regardless of sex or age. Keeping in mind the small home range of turtles and their limited ability to travel long distances, you should never pick them up and take them to a new area. If they are crossing a road, only set them to the other side, do not relocate them. In addition, turtles found crossing the roads in June and July are likely pregnant females. These females are likely searching for a nesting site when they are found.

As we move into spring and summer, turtles will become more active. Keep in mind that we should always leave turtles in the wild. They live longer healthier lives and can contribute to their breeding population. Likewise, you should never release a captive turtle into the wild as it will likely not survive and may introduce diseases.

How Are the Terrapins Doing in 2022?

New Regulations for Diamondback Terrapins Will Eventually Impact Recreational Crab Traps

In December of 2021 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) passed new regulations concerning the diamondback terrapin.  One will make it illegal to possess a terrapin without a permit beginning March 1, 2022.  The other will impact recreational crab trap design in early 2023.  A number of people have begun to ask questions ab

The diamond in the marsh. The diamondback terrapin.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

ut this new ruling so, we will explain it.




We will start there.  Most Floridians have never heard of this animal, and if they have, they know it from the Chesapeake Bay area.  Diamondback terrapins are turtles in the Family Emydidae.  This family includes many of the pond turtles Floridians are familiar with – cooters, sliders, red-belly, and others.  The big difference between terrapins and pond turtles is the coloration of their skin, and their preference for brackish water – they like estuaries over ponds and lakes.  They do have lachrymal glands in their eyes to help excrete salt from water, but they are not as efficient as those of sea turtles so, they cannot live in sea water for more than about a month – it is the bays and bayous they like to call home.


There are seven recognized subspecies which range from Cape Cod MA., to Brownsville TX.  Five of them are found in Florida and three are only found in Florida.  But few Floridians have ever heard of them and even fewer have seen one.  Their cousins the pond turtles are quite common.  We see their heads in ponds and lakes, several of them basking on logs near shore of ponds, lakes, and rivers, and frequently see dead ones along our highways.  We don’t see terrapins.  We do not see their heads in the marsh, basking on logs, or dead carcasses along our coastal highways.  Again, this is an unknown turtle to us.



The question sort of explains the answer – we do not see them – their population in our state may deem some action by the FWC.  In the Chesapeake region they are quite common, and people see them frequently.  It is the mascot of the University of Maryland.  Along the roads to the barrier islands in Georgia hundreds of terrapins can be found trying to nest and many are hit by cars.  In most of these mid-Atlantic states there is some form of protection for them.  They either list them as threatened or a species of concern.  One state has it listed as endangered.  Again, these are states where encounters are much more common.


Florida has a rich diversity of turtles, maybe the richest in the country, and we have been the target for turtle harvest.  Turtles are sought after for food and as pets.  The harvest of some species has been heavy and FWC has listed them as “no take”.  For a variety of reasons, harvest being one of them, Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii), the Suwannee Cooter (Pseudemys suwanniensis), and the Barbour’s Map Turtle (Graptemys barbouri) are illegal to possess without a permit.  This includes their eggs.  Because other species look very similar to these, they have also been added to the no-take list.  This would include all species of cooters and snapping turtles, the Escambia Map Turtle (Graptemys ernsti) and the Striped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon baurii) – which is a small riverine turtle that resembles a small snapping turtle.  Note: the regulation on the striped mud turtle is for the lower Florida Keys only.  You could take diamondback terrapins but only one and you could have no more than two in your possession.  You could not possess their eggs.  But with the 2021 ruling – this has changed.


As mentioned, terrapin encounters are rare in our state.  There has been concern about their population status here.  I got involved with them in 2005 primarily to answer the question “Do terrapins even exist in the Florida panhandle?”.  The answer is yes, they do.  Since 2005 myself, and trained volunteers, have conducted 859 surveys searching for them between Escambia and Franklin counties.  We have encountered terrapins, or terrapin sign (tracks, shells, depredated nests) 215 of those – 25% of the surveys; most of those encounters were terrapin sign – they are hard creatures to find.  Because of the low encounter rate across the state, it is believed that the populations here are low and in need for conservation measures.


Then comes the crab traps…


Researchers with the Diamondback Terrapin Working Group have identified several stressors to terrapin populations.  Loss of habitat, depredated nests by predators (particularly the raccoon), road mortality, and… crab traps.  Terrapins feed primarily on shellfish but will eat other things if given the opportunity.  They do have a tendency to enter crab traps.  Though they feed on small juvenile crabs it is the bait we think they are after in this scenario.  Once in, like blue crabs, they find it hard to escape.  Unlike blue crabs, turtles have lungs, and the terrapins eventually drown.  In the Chesapeake Bay region blue crabs are ”king” – a major commercial and recreational fishery.  Terrapins entering crab traps means crabs are not.  There have been as many as 40 dead terrapins found in one trap.  This was a major concern for all.  Dr. Roger Woods of the Wetlands Institute in New Jersey began working on a device that would keep terrapins out but allow blue crabs in.  Data shows that in most cases, the larger females are the ones entering and the smaller males would follow.  If you could keep the female out it was believed that most males would not enter.  So, the device was designed to keep the large females out.  A 6×2” rectangle seemed to work best.  Field studies showed that these By-Catch Reduction Devices (BRDs) kept 80-90% of the terrapins out and did not significantly impact the crab catch.  We had a design that seemed to work.

This orange plastic rectangle is a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) used to keep terrapins out of crab traps – but not crabs.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

BRDs are designed to keep terrapins out but allow crabs to enter.
Photo: Virginia Sea Grant


These BRDs have been required in the Mid-Atlantic states for a few years now.  With the concern in Florida populations, it is now coming to Florida.  By March 1, 2023, all recreational crab traps in Florida will be required to have a fixed funnel size no larger than 6×2”.  Either the funnel must be this size, or you can attach one of the plastic orange BRDs to the opening (see photo).  Currently bait and tackle shops do not have the BRDs but will be acquiring over the next year.  FWC will be working on providing sources between now and March of 2023.  If you are in the Pensacola area you can contact me, I have a case of them in my office.


As far as having one on your possession – it is now a no-take species.  This rule began March 1, 2022.  If you have had a terrapin in your possession you can apply for a no-cost permit to keep it (visit the FWC link below to obtain information on applying for this permit).  If you are an education facility that houses terrapins for educational purposes – the same, you can apply for a no-cost education permit to keep your terrapins.  You must have this permit by May 31, 2022.


If you have any questions concerning this ruling or how to comply with it, you can contact FWC or your county Sea Grant Extension Agent.  The FWC link for more information on this, and other turtle regulations, can be found at

New FWC Regulations for Diamondback Terrapins

New FWC Regulations for Diamondback Terrapins

Let’s begin by stating what a diamondback terrapin is.  I have found many Floridians are not familiar with the animal.  It is a turtle.  A turtle in the family Emydidae which includes the pond turtles, such as cooters and sliders.  The big difference between terrapins and the other emydid turtles is their preference for salt water.  They are not marine turtles but rather estuarine – they like brackish water.

The diamond in the marsh. The diamondback terrapin.
Photo: Molly O’Connor


Their haunt are the salt marshes and mangroves of the state.  Their range extends from Massachusetts down the east coast and covering all of the Gulf of Mexico over to Brownsville Texas.  There are seven subspecies of the animal within that range.  Five of those live in Florida and three only live in Florida.  They are more abundant, and well known, in the Chesapeake Bay area where they are the mascot of the University of Maryland.  In Florida they seem to be more secretive and hidden.  Encounters with them are rare and there has been concern about their status for years.  Though researchers are not 100% sure on their population size, it was felt that more conservation measures were needed.


Ten years ago, the issue with all turtles in the state was the illegal harvest for the food trade.  All sorts of species were being captured and sent to markets overseas.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) stepped in and set possession quotas on many species of Florida turtles.  For terrapins, the number was two.  For some, like the Suwannee Cooter, there was a no possession rule.

Drowned terrapins in a derelict crab trap in the Florida panhandle. (photo: Molly O’Connor)


There has also been concern with incidental capture of terrapins in crab traps.  These turtles have been known to swim into the traps and drown.  In the Chesapeake Bay area, they have found as many as 40 dead turtles in one trap.  Not only is this bad for the turtles, but it is also bad for the crab fisherman because high numbers of dead turtles in the trap means no crabs.  Studies began to develop some sort of excluder device that would keep terrapins out, but allow crabs in.  Dr. Roger Wood developed a rectangle shaped wire excluder now called a By-Catch Reduction Device (BRD) that reduced the terrapin capture by 80-90% but had no significant effect on the crab catch.  That was what they were looking for.  This BRD has been required on crab traps up there for years.


What about Florida?


Studies using the BRD were also conducted here with the same results, but the BRD was not required.  Incidental capture in crab traps does occur here but not to the extent it was happening in the Chesapeake and FWC wanted to hold off for more science before enacting the rule.  BRDs were available for those who wanted them, but not required.  This past December (2021) that changed.

This orange plastic rectangle is a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) used to keep terrapins out of crab traps – but not crabs.
Photo: Rick O’Connor


In recent years there has been another issue with harvesting terrapins for the pet trade.  With this, and other conservation concerns for this turtle, FWC developed a new rule for terrapins at their December 2021 meeting.

  1. The possession limit for terrapins has dropped from 2 to 0 – there is a no-take rule for this animal beginning March 1, 2022. Collection for scientific research will still be allowed with a valid collecting permit from the FWC.  Those who currently have two or less terrapins in their possession as pets may keep them but must obtain a no cost personal possession permit to do so by May 31, 2022.  Those who have terrapins within an education center may keep them but must obtain a no cost exhibit permit by May 31, 2022.
  2. Recreational crab traps will require the BRD device by March 1, 2023. You have a year.  Those in the Pensacola area can contact me for these.  I have a case of them I am willing to provide to the public.

Again, studies have shown that these BRDs do not significantly impact the crab catch.  Crabs can turn sideways and still enter the traps.  But reducing incidental capture of terrapins will hopefully increase their numbers in our state.  For information on how to obtain the needed permits visit FWC.