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'Diamondbacks need our help'

Bermuda Sun
Friday, November 16, 2012

11/16/2012 8:00:00 AM
Simon Jones

FRIDAY, NOV. 16: “We could lose this endangered species for good if we don’t step in to help them out.”

That is the candid view of researcher Mark Outerbridge after he completed  a groundbreaking study into the hatching success of wild diamondback terrapins in Bermuda.

Endangered: A diamondback terrapin
hatchling emerges from its shell.

*Photo supplied

Mr Outerbridge spent months monitoring clutches of diamondback eggs in the sand bunkers of the Mid Ocean Golf Course and comparing their hatching success with eggs he collected and put into an incubator.

The findings paint a worrying picture for the species, which is believed to number just over 100 on the island. And Mr Outerbridge believes it is now time for humans to give the diamondback terrapins a helping hand to ensure their future survival.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “This is the first time that anyone has really looked in any detail at the hatching success of diamondback terrapins in the wild and the results are quite startling.

The diamondback terrapin species is in
grave danger, according to researcher
Mark Outerbridge. 
*Photo supplied

“In June I marked out 10 nests of 58 eggs in the bunkers of the Mid-Ocean Golf Course where the terrapins nest and recorded the hatching success of these clutches later in the year. I also collected 74 eggs from the course and placed them in an incubator back in the Aquarium and compared the success rate.

“Of the ones in the wild just two developed into hatchlings, which is a 3.4-per-cent success rate.

“While 33 of the eggs in the incubator hatched out, which is a 44-per-cent success rate.”

The incubator was set to optimum heat and humidity levels to ensure all the baby terrapins were male.And of the 33 incubator hatchlings all but four survived and were later released into Mangrove Lake on the golf course.

Mr Outerbridge added: “The figure for the wild or control sample was particularly bad compared to what I had seen before and that could be because I only monitored 10 nests.

“But that is one of the reasons why I did this project; to try and get to the bottom of this low-hatching success in the wild.

“Fortunately, in Bermuda diamondbacks do not have predators like raccoons so it is still a bit of a mystery why they struggle so much in the wild.

“This is an area I would like to look at more in the future. But the most critical aspect of this project is that it has shown how fragile the diamondback population is.

“The more I have worked with these terrapins the more I believe that we can not afford to just stand back.

“We need to help them or we will lose them.”

Courses vital to wildlife

FRIDAY, NOV. 16: The island’s golf courses provide a unique and invaluable habitat for many of Bermuda’s most endangered species.

The Mid Ocean Golf Course is home to the island’s entire population of diamondback terrapins.

And over half of Bermuda’s endemic killifish population can be found in the course’s ponds: Mangrove Lake and Trott’s Pond.

Conservationist David Wingate said: “Golf courses are extremely important because of their sheer size.

“First and foremost they are important for blue birds which love large lawn areas. If it was not for the golf courses they would probably be extinct by now.

“They are also extremely popular with shore birds like sand pipers and plovers which come to Bermuda every fall.

“You can not underestimate just how important the island’s golf courses are to our wildlife.”

Mark Outerbridge, who has just completed a study on the Mid Ocean’s diamondback terrapin population, said golf courses remained a crucial refuge for island wildlife.

He added: “They are key stake holders in protecting our environment and I was really impressed by the Mid Ocean’s attitude to my work. They were extremely helpful to me in my work, to the point of telling their members that they could get a free drop out of the bunkers which I was monitoring so they did not disturb the terrapin nests.”

Norman Furtado from the Mid Ocean Golf Course said: “It’s nice for us to be able to help out.

“We are obviously committed to protecting our environment and as golf courses represent a significant amount of the open space in Bermuda it is our duty to do our bit to help.”