Operation Terrapin Rescue at Port Mahon

Operation Terrapin Rescue is a volunteer program to help Diamondback terrapins move safely between the Delaware Bay and their nesting sites near Port Mahon. It also collects accurate and valuable data on the terrapins’ movements.

Contact Us

Nate Nazdrowicz
Species Conservation and Research Program

Diamondback terrapins inhabit estuaries and tidal marshes along Delaware’s coast. Although they spend the majority of their life in brackish water habitats, females venture on land to find nesting sites in late May–July.

One of the many places terrapins nest in Delaware is along Port Mahon Road in Little Creek. Port Mahon Road snugly borders the Delaware Bay. The un-vegetated, sandy roadsides are great nesting habitat for Diamondback terrapins.

A Challenge

In 2015, very large stones were placed along sections of Port Mahon Road to protect the road from erosion. Unfortunately, these rocks created a barrier for the terrapins and they got trapped within the rocks as they came to nest.

The rocks also blocked their path back to the bay, causing terrapins to spend more time in the road and vulnerable to being struck by vehicles.

Assisting Terrapins

To alleviate the problem, the Delaware Department of Transportation added two “turtle tunnels,” wide concrete pipes that run under the rocks, to provide the terrapins a safe avenue to make their way to and from the bay and nesting areas.

However, since Port Mahon Road is approximately 2 miles long, additional volunteer efforts are necessary to help terrapins negotiate these rocks and vehicle hazards..

Become a Volunteer

New volunteers must complete a Volunteer Application Form. Volunteer training sessions are held at Port Mahon in May and June.

Volunteers sign up for specific 3-hour shifts associated with high tide. Volunteers walk/drive Port Mahon Road and look for terrapins that need help navigating around the rocks. The number of turtles observed and location for each sighting are recorded on a datasheet.

For more information, contact Nate Nazdrowicz at 302-735-8688 or