Above: Ornate diamondback terrapin in Hernando County, FL (Photos by Daniel Parker)
The Diamondback terrapin is a unique species of turtle that inhabits Florida’s salt marshes and mangrove swamps. Due to their beauty and personable nature, people all over the world like to keep terrapins as pets. The high demand for terrapins in Asia, especially China, has driven illegal wild collection to dangerous and potentially unsustainable levels. USARK FL (United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida) has proposed a program to FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) to allow the legal captive breeding of terrapins in Florida to supply the trade with captive bred animals, which it believes would discourage illegal collection of wild terrapins.
That proposal may be seen here:
A Proposal for the Captive Breeding of Diamondback Terrapins.pdf
The remarkable recovery of the American alligator through farming efforts has proven that captive breeding of reptiles can be effective in reducing poaching by supplying the market with captive-produced products. Brendan J. Moyle of Massey University documents this occurrence in his article, Conservation that’s more than skin-deep:Alligator farming. (below)
National Geographic reported that after the Colombian government permitted a captive breeding program of Poison dart frogs to supply the international pet trade, the price of the most highly-demanded species fell from $150 to $35, thus making it economically impractical for illegal traffickers to risk collecting and smuggling them.
The BBC recently reported that scientists at the University of Durham in the UK have advocated for captive breeding and commercialization as a strategy to recover songbird populations which have been impacted by over collection for the Asian pet trade.
Dr. Whit Gibbons of University of Georgia supports the captive breeding proposal for Diamondback terrapins. “The availability of captive-bred animals removes pressure on wild populations,” said Gibbons. He added, “USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) has given a positive statement about alligator snappers being raised in captivity.” Gibbons refers to a recent USFWS document proposing the Federal listing of the Alligator Snapping turtle, which states: “The service recognizes that turtle farming can alleviate harvest of wild stock and provides a means to serve international markets without affecting wild populations in the future.”
The examples of other species of animals where captive breeding has been implemented as a solution to reduce pressure on wild populations are encouraging. Diamondback terrapins mature quickly and breed easily in captivity. They produce many offspring, ensuring that breeders would be able to impact markets fairly quickly.
“Florida’s turtle breeders are some of the best in the world and would have the ability to produce many thousands of captive bred terrapins within a few years if allowed to do so,” said USARK FL spokesperson Daniel Parker, who is also a conservation biologist and turtle breeder. “This program should be regulated to ensure that any turtles sold can be verified as captive bred offspring and that adult breeder animals are not replaced with wild caught animals,” added Parker.
Threats to wild Diamondback terrapins include habitat destruction, sea level rise, mortality from drowning in crab traps, road mortality, predation, and poaching. Florida’s turtle breeders can help address at least one of those threats. USARK FL supports a program allowing for captive breeding of terrapins and the sale of captive bred offspring. The result would be the availability of a captive bred alternative to poached wild caught animals in the market.
Portia Sapp, the Aquaculture Director for FDACS (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) said that her department is willing to administrate a terrapin breeding program, as they already do with other turtle farmers, so the program would not require FWC to incur additional administrative costs.
The captive breeding of Diamondback terrapins will be discussed at the next FWC Commission meeting on September 28, 2022. Concerned citizens may give public comments at the meeting or comment online.
See this link for more information:
Below: Hatchling Ornate diamondback terrapin in Pasco County, FL (Photo by Daniel Parker)