The Terrapin Nesting Project
A love of turtles
It was 2011 and we were in our backyard on a beach overlooking Barnegat Bay in southern New Jersey. My husband John, myself and our daughter Grace, who was six years old at the time, were enjoying the water. We were approached by a woman asking if we had seen any nesting turtles and could we please call her if we do. We learned that day of a passionate woman who had a love of turtles beyond compare. Kathy had grown up on Long Beach Island and was sad to see the decline of the Diamondback Terrapin. She was determined to take action so she shared with us that day her new research project designed to study, track, relocate nests and hopefully, as a result, bring back a dying population. It was obvious from day one that Kathy Lacey was a force of nature herself.
The next morning at six am, Grace came screaming into our bedroom “A TURTLE! A TURTLE IN OUR BACKYARD! CALL MISS KATHY!” Half asleep, we hauled ourselves to our deck and peered over the railing. There, in fact, was a nesting turtle. Grace insisted we call Kathy and when I hesitated, I was reminded by her that we had promised we would call. We marked the nest, covered it as instructed and made the fateful call. Kathy must have flown there she arrived so fast. With the exuberance of the teacher she is, she told us the story of the Diamondback Terrapin. Kathy shared with us her plan to relocate eggs to the protected hatchery next to our home. She further explained the need to take action due to predators and loss of habitat. This population had greatly declined. Kathy then produced from the nest a dozen gorgeous pink eggs to behold. The Terrapin Nesting Project was born. My six year old was sold. Kathy and Grace became fast friends.
Grace followed Kathy all over the north end of Long Beach Island. Kathy became known as “The Turtle Lady”, Grace became known as “Turtle girl.” They shared the story of the Diamondback Terrapin, urging any and all to help. Kathy allowed my six-year-old to take responsibility and be part of making a difference. Grace would tell you today that in that summer she learned a sense of purpose and felt what responsibility meant, even at six. I think Grace spent the end of that summer sleeping in the hatchery watching intently for hatchlings. She certainly spent a lot of time in her pajamas in there. Last out of the hatchery, first in. Kathy taught Grace how to track a female, how to measure her, how to mark a nest and to cover it to protect it from the crows. (Grace also learned how smart crows were that summer.) Kathy then taught Grace how to care for the hatchlings. The Terrapin Nesting Project maternity ward was born….in my garage no less.
Grace was Kathy’s first intern. Kathy saw a spark of interest, shared her knowledge and let Grace run with it. Grace absorbed every moment, sat quietly, watched and learned. Not an easy task for a six-year-old. She learned so much, so fast from Kathy, Grace was answering calls on her own in year two. I was just a driver and followed the intern around. Kathy noted her gift for finding difficult nests. Together Kathy and Grace inspired a beautiful grassroots movement. Some thought us all crazy. Nobody cared. It began with just over 200 eggs in the hatchery in year one. It grew. Residents and vacationers alike, grandparents, parents and their children witnessed the goodness taking place and wanted to help. They all tracked turtles, marked nests and called us.
Today Kathy has inspired hundreds more to volunteer and to donate their time and resources. Together with key volunteers like Jill Snyder (social media queen) and Jean Schaum who dedicate their summers to these fascinating creatures, The TNP has educated the island and beyond. We have released over 10,000 hatchlings into the bay. Kathy has made a difference and taught my daughter that she can too.
From humble beginnings, great things have come. Ten thousand of them.