A lawmaker wants shore towns to ramp up protection for a favorite Jersey animal, the diamondback terrapin, a type of turtle that inhabits salt marshes.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, has written to a number of shore towns, including Sea Isle City, Ocean City and Upper Township, asking them to commit time and resources to protect the terrapins.

Lisa Ferguson, director of research and conservation at Middle Township's Wetlands Institute says "we have beautiful but developed coasts in New Jersey. That means the terrapins are threatened by the traffic on coastal roads so close to their habitat.

"Diamondback terrapins live in the salt marshes that line our coast, on the Atlantic side and on the Delaware Bay side. They live there year round. Roads are definitely a problem for the terrapins, and these roads become particularly busy during the summertime, when we get to the beaches. But when the female terrapins, in particular, are coming up out of the marshes and looking for high ground to lay their nests."

She says they dig a hole into the ground and lay a clutch of eggs. "But of course, those eggs, after several months, will hatch, and then the hatchlings have to cross those very same roads to get back to the marsh, so it is also a problem for the hatchlings as well."

Ferguson says signage and fencing can help in certain shore areas, but awareness is also important.

"The more that we can do to understand what areas in particular need attention, the better we can do to protect the terrapins. So it is really paying attention, being an alert drivers and also safe drivers."

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

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