Education Outreach, Research, and Management Strategies Utilized by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to Reduce Mortality from Boat-Strike Injuries in Marine Turtles and Automobile Collisions in Diamondback Terrapins in Coastal Georgia
Terry M. Norton, DVM, DACZM
Boat-strike injuries cause significant morbidity and mortality in marine turtles and is increasing in frequency worldwide. Automobile-related morbidity and mortality is significantly affecting diamondback terrapin populations throughout their range. Nearly a quarter of a million people have had the opportunity to learn about sea turtles and diamondback terrapins though the interactive educational exhibits and programs at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) since its opening 3 years ago. Visitors can view patients and various procedures through an exhibit gallery window and an elevated walkway that divides the hospital tanks in the rehabilitation area. Regular patient updates are presented by educators that focus on the medical issues pertaining to individual patients, but more importantly discuss the population effects of the various threats and what the average person can do to help. The staff conducts regular educational outreach program for schools. Professional training is available through an AmeriCorps program, veterinary technician and veterinary student externships, and graduate student research projects. Examples of conservation programs include placing terrapin crossing signs on the causeway during the nesting season; egg extraction from dead female terrapins hit by car for incubation, hatching and rearing for release; working with the Department of Transportation to minimize mowing and tilling on the causeway during the terrapin nesting and hatching season; documenting the level of mortality; defining hot spots for nesting and mortality; placing artificial nest mounds with raccoon-proof caging on top in strategic locations along the causeway; permanently identifying terrapins; and development of collaborative research programs.