There are lots of things we’d like to see happen in the future of Jamaica Bay Terrapin Research—lots of gaps in the knowledge needed to help our terrapins, and lots to be done to implement the management we already know is needed. But two things—one a knowledge gap and the other an application gap—are clearly extremely important.
We need to know where the terrapins go when they’re not nesting. The famous sea turtle biologist Archie Carr once said 99% of what we know about sea turtles is what they do 1% of the time, and that’s mostly true here with terrapins. JB has been losing salt marsh habitat since at least the 1920s and this has greatly accelerated in recent decades. Marshes are essential feeding and over-wintering habitat for adult terrapins, and marsh loss can cause rapid population decline. However, nothing is known about terrapin use of JB marshes, and not much is known about such behavior in any terrapin population.
Unfortunately it is difficult to track terrapins, especially in Jamaica Bay. Regular VHF telemetry would be really difficult, and while there are lots of GPS tags on the markets these days, they have technical issues here too. These issues might be sorted out soon, as lots of companies are working on small devices that get high-resolution quick GPS fixes and also transmit their data to a ground station or satellites. That’s the golden ring everyone wants. But in the meantime we could use a tried and true technology—sonic tags. For that we’d need 20 stationary receivers scattered around JB, and we could put relatively inexpensive sonic tags on a bunch of nesting terrapins, and follow them home, as they feed, as they mate, as they overwinter. This would be expensive—about $100K, but would have many spin-off uses as well. Once the receivers were up we could use them to track lots of other JB animals too—such as horseshoe crabs, sharks, and other fish. And the data could be used for all sorts of citizen science, and would be a great avenue for getting NYC school kids involved in wildlife in their won own backyard.
The application gap—the things we know we need to do—is protect JB’s remaining marshes and help them re-build. The causes of JB marsh loss are not altogether clear (see Whats Happening at Jamaica Bay) but enough is known to take action to reduce the pollution (especially nitrogen) and bring back the oysters and rebuild the marshes. People are working on this but it isn’t clear that enough is happening fast enough to save what’s left.