Sunday, April 30, 2006

ENV: Diamondback Terrapin Woes

Mission: Save the Turtles
One Woman Seeks to Save Maryland State Reptile from Overharvesting, Development
ABC News


April 30, 2006 — - Marguerite Whilden is on a mission: She's driving nearly 200 miles from her home in Annapolis, Md., to rescue turtles that were found in Albany, N.Y.

She wants to rescue diamondback terrapins, the state reptile of Maryland and the official mascot of the University of Maryland. To Whilden, they are the "iron men" of the animal kingdom.

"Turtles and tortoises have survived ice ages," she said. "If I can't go down to the lower Chesapeake and find nesting turtles or the remnants of a nest or whatever, then I feel as though my heritage has been robbed."

Buying and Tagging
Whilden is trying to save them by buying them. In the last three years, she's spent $25,000 in donations to buy 5,000 turtles that Chesapeake Bay fisherman accidentally caught in their nets.

Whilden uses a tag like a brand on a cow to mark turtles as her personal property.

"I have a stake throughout the bay because my private property is out there," she said.

She hopes the fisherman will honor the tags and either set turtles wearing them free or return them to her.

Soup and Subdivisions
Terrapins once were abundant in the Chesapeake Bay, but over-harvesting in the 19th century depleted their numbers.

Today, they're in demand again -- for soup, especially in Asia, where it's a cheap delicacy.

"They could be wiped out now -- and just by careless, $2.50 a head," she said. "That's not right."

State wildlife officials say the greater threat is closer to home -- coastal real estate developments that destroy the turtles' nesting grounds.

Whatever the cause, Whilden says saving the terrapin is a test of man's stewardship of nature. She will continue to buy up turtles so she can let them march back into the bay.

"If we can't take care of this miniscule little issue, then don't expect me to believe that you can save anything," she said.

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