Diamondback terrapins are the only exclusively estuarine turtle found in North America. Although diamondback terrapins are found with a variety of patterns, genetics data suggest that they are a single species (Malaclemys terrapin) with seven sub-species generally corresponding to geographic regions between Texas and Massachusetts. More than 100 years ago diamondback terrapins were highly abundant; however, human harvest for food and use of their shells in jewelry nearly did this species in. Despite some protective regulations, diamondback terrapin populations remain at historically low levels. In South Carolina, diamondback terrapins are listed as a "high priority" species for conservation in the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
The Marine Resources Division (MRD) of the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for the management of diamondback terrapins in South Carolina. For the past two decades the MRD has collected some statewide population data, in addition to assisting with data collection for multiple graduate studies at the College of Charleston. Diamondback terrapin research programs managed by researchers at Davidson College and Francis Marion University also provide a wealth of useful data at Kiawah Island and North Inlet-Winyah Bay, respectively.
The purpose of this website is to synthesize the state of knowledge of diamondback terrapin populations in South Carolina in order to maximize efforts to restore this species to its former importance in the marsh ecosystem. Because of the cryptic nature of diamondback terrapins and the limited number of wildlife biologists available to study them, we greatly appreciate reports and photographs provided by "citizen scientists" regarding a wide range of terrapin sightings.
If you find an injured diamondback terrapin, please call the SCDNR Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-922-5431. To contact us for non-time sensitive terrapin matters such as requesting a guest speaker, please send us an email and we'll respond in a timely manner.
In the News
April 18, 2017 - Designing a Turtle-Proof Crab Trap
October 4, 2016 - DNR works to help crabbers and save a depleted turtle species
September 16, 2016 - Crabbers wanted: Help DNR reduce crab trap bycatch
August 3, 2016 - Watch Terrapin Hatchlings Emerge From Their Shells
April 19, 2016 - Public Sought in Marsh Turtle Study
March 17, 2016 - DNR studies turtle that might be key to marsh health
May-June 2009 - South Carolina Wildlife magazine - Disappearing Diamondbacks
Diamondback terrapin research conducted by the SCDNR MRD receives funding from several different state and federal sources. The trammel net survey managed by the Inshore Fisheries Group is funded by the State Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee (SRFAC) as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Several State Wildlife Grant (SWG) grants administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have supported life history, distribution, and by-catch reduction studies since 2008. Testing of by-catch excluder devices between 2006 and 2009 was supported by a Cooperative Research Grant administered by the NMFS.