Kathy Lacey

Terrapin Tails”, Kathy Lacey/TNP/Founder

In the late 1960’s, Long Beach Island, New Jersey was a pristine paradise with 18 miles of bay beaches suitable for diamondback terrapin nesting. It was love at first sight. As soon as school let out for summer break I would spend my days bayside, watching the females start to emerge from the bay onto the beaches, where she would spend what seemed an eternity to me finding the perfect spot to dig her nest, drop her eggs and cover it so well it was impossible to tell where she’d been. We didn’t have an issue with predators then as we do now.  Just as summer was winding down, back to the bay I’d go, usually with others in tow, to see the hatchlings. Usually, we’d spot a few, scurrying towards the marshes.

I left the island in 1984 when I met and married the’ Turtle Man’ and moved to Pennsylvania. This was the same year the building moratorium was lifted and houses were being constructed everywhere…bay beaches were disappearing, docks and bulkheads in their place. As an environmental science teacher and amateur herpetologist, I continued working with turtles and fighting to protect their habitats. I visited Long Beach Island whenever possible seeing few if any terrapins during my visits.

In the spring of 2011, after recovering from HER2 Breast Cancer and with the Sierra Club as my sponsor, I returned to the island to found the ‘Terrapin Nesting Project’. Hatchlings hadn’t been seen in the bay in dozens of years. All the bay beaches were gone, replaced by homes with docks and bulkheads, sandy yards were replaced by hardscaping and clay substrate. Raccoons were in abundance. I constructed a small hatchery and began looking for volunteers. I met Grace Crimi. Six years old with the insight and patience of someone much older, she would become my first volunteer and the ‘Turtle Girl’. We relocated, incubated and released 221 hatchlings.

For the first five years, Grace, myself and the rest of our core group transferred eggs laid in unsuitable places to one of our three hatcheries where they were monitored during their incubation. The community embraced our project with hundreds of locals and vacationers patrolling the bay roads, helping the females cross, marking and calling in nests. By year six several homeowners had turned over large areas on their property to be used as a natural nesting site., These were rescaped with mountains of sand, protective cages, sonic boxes for predator deterrents and monofilament to protect from crows. By the end of last year, we’d successfully incubated, hatched and released over 10,000 hatchlings.

Thanks to our amazing core team: Grace & Tracey Crimi, Jill Snyder, Jean Schaum, Lisa Dolan, Mimi & Katie Purzychi, Chuck Henry, Michele Budd and Bette Della Torre we’ve become a force on and off the island, expanding to Galloway Township this year. The Sierra Club continues to sponsor us.We partnered with the Turtle Conservancy two years ago and Garden State Tortoise last year. This year our focus will be on expanding our natural nesting sites and developing more research and education projects.