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Diamondback terrapins at Zoo Atlanta have a future in the wild
Thursday, September 22, 2016

Twenty-five young turtles have arrived at the Zoo, and 23 have traveled to the Georgia coast, in support of conservation for a native species 

The newest turtles in Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience didn’t hatch at Zoo Atlanta – they’re part of an important conservation program for a native Georgia icon. The 25 young diamondback terrapins now exploring the waters of the Zoo’s Georgia Tidal Creek are participants in the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program. 

In receiving the new terrapins, Zoo Atlanta also transferred 23 diamondback terrapins brought to the Zoo in 2015 back to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a department of the Jekyll Island Authority, which will prepare them for release in the wild along the Georgia coast. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program focuses on a roadside management plan to reduce terrapin mortality on Georgia’s causeways and elsewhere with the goal of reducing the unsustainable impact of highway mortality on diamondback terrapin populations. Zoo Atlanta supports the program by rearing terrapins hatched from females killed or injured by automobiles. 

“We’re proud to support the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in the work they do to raise awareness of and protect the diamondback terrapin, which is one of our state’s natural treasures,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “Zoo visitors can do more than see and appreciate these young terrapins as they grow up here. They can see them with the knowledge that these same individuals will someday be part of wild populations.” 

Found only along the eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States, from Cape Cod south to the Florida Keys and west to Texas, the diamondback terrapin is the only turtle species on Earth that inhabits brackish water. Once numerous on the coast of Georgia, the species was driven nearly to extinction by overharvesting for turtle soup in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Diamondback terrapin numbers are now on the rise thanks to conservation action, but highway mortality continues to be the turtles’ primary threat, along with habitat alteration and drownings in crab pots. 

The new terrapins can now be seen in the Georgia Tidal Creek in Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience. Their shells are numbered with nontoxic paint for identification. 

The Georgia Tidal Creek is one of around 65 habitats represented in Scaly Slimy Spectacular. Opened in 2015, the complex is the world’s first LEED Gold-certified reptile and amphibian exhibit. Additional honors include first place in the Interior Exhibits category in the 2016 National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Interpretive Media Awards; the ENR Southeast Best Project Award in the Cultural/Worship category in 2015; and an award for Top Project in Commercial Construction under $30 Million from the Construction Management Association of America in 2015. 

Visit www.zooatlanta.org for more on conservation programs at Zoo Atlanta. For more on the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, visit gstc.jekyllisland.com.