Diamondback Terrapins are small turtles that live in the brackish waters of estuaries from Massachusetts to Texas. They can be found in tidal creeks and rivers, bays and sounds, salt marshes, and mangrove systems. Throughout their range, they are a species of special concern, endangered, or threatened. Out of the seven subspecies of diamondback terrapins, five live in Florida, and three only live in Florida (mangrove, Florida, and ornate).
The Mangrove Diamondback Terrapin is the subspecies that can be found in South Florida, which includes the Florida Keys and Everglades (FWC map on left). Mangrove Diamondback Terrapins live around 25 years in the wild, and it takes the females around 5 years to become reproductive, when they start having 2-3 clutches of 5-10 eggs per year. Like all diamondback terrapins, the Mangrove Diamondback Terrapin is a pretty secretive reptile that forages on mussels, clams, snails, and crabs. Unfortunately, these turtles are known to enter blue crab traps in search of an easy blue crab meal. Since turtles are air breathers, they frequently drown in blue crab traps, and this is a major cause of their decline.
In addition to negative encounters with blue crab traps, they are collected for the pet trade and Asian live food markets. Since March 2021, zero terrapins may be collected in Florida for pets or food. People who already have diamondback terrapins may keep their pets, but they need to register them with a no-cost Personal Possession permit from the FWC.
Effective March 1, 2023 all recreational blue crab traps in the state of Florida will be required to have a bycatch reduction device (also called a BRD, for short) that is rectangular and no larger than 6 inches by 2 inches. These BRDs are wired or zip-tied onto all of the trap openings to reduce the likelihood of catching Diamondback Terrapins. Research has shown the 6”x2” plastic devices are successful at keeping diamondback terrapins out of the traps, yet large enough to allow the blue crabs to enter the traps for capture. It is important to note, that these new BRD regulations are for blue crab traps only — this does not apply to the black plastic recreational stone crab traps.
The Monroe County Extension office has free BRDs (bycatch reduction devices) for your blue crab traps. The orange plastic BRD is used to retrofit your blue crab trap to meet the new regulations (pictured to the right). Please call 305-292-4501 for more information. Featured image photo credit: FWC