A representative from New Jersey Nature shows a turtle to children at the 2018 Sara the Turtle Festival at Sea Isle’s Excursion Park.(Courtesy Sea Isle City)

By Maddy Vitale

Steve and Susan Ahern have been very busy lately rescuing diamondback terrapins from the streets of Sea Isle City and digging up eggs in sometimes unusual places turning them over to the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor in hopes they will hatch.

Sometimes you will see the Aherns, who run the Sea Isle Terrapin Rescue, at the turtle nesting boxes behind the library. Other times you may see them at Dealy Field finding eggs around the perimeter of the tennis courts.

Led by the Aherns, there is a cadre of volunteers out scouring Sea Isle, making it their mission to rescue turtles in the city.

Diamondback terrapins can live for 30 to 40 years, but with roadwork, construction, shore traffic, and deaths related to the fishing industry, the prospect of longevity is always a concern, Steve Ahern explained Thursday.

Only one egg in a thousand grows up to be an adult turtle, Ahern said.

This summer has been mixed with good and bad data on the turtle front in Sea Isle.

Since June 1, the Aherns have rescued 340 terrapins.

But they also found 30 dead turtles on the roadways in resort’s roadways. Over Memorial Day weekend 80 terrapins were found dead on the beach. The matter is still under investigation with the state Department of Environmental Protection. Ahern said he believes 10 or 12 of the dead terrapins were females.

Steve and Susan Ahern created two new nesting boxes for this season to give turtles a safe place to lay their eggs. Steve Ahern (orange shirt) oversees a release of turtles last year. (Courtesy City of Sea Isle City)

“From my standpoint, last year was the busiest nesting season I had seen in five or six years,” he said. “This year has been slower.”

He attributed the lower number of terrapins nesting to deaths on the roads, traps and shrinking nesting grounds due to construction.

However, the good news is the turtle boxes created by the Aherns and volunteers, located at the library, are doing their job.

“Turtles walk right in,” Ahern said, adding that many of the turtles were brought back there by him and the volunteers.

The life of Steve Ahern, a retired attorney, and Susan Ahern, a retired nurse, is never dull.

Eight years ago, when the Aherns really became involved in turtle rescue, they made an unusual discovery. It turns out turtles find the Dealy Field tennis courts an ideal place to lay their eggs. The courts are comprised of compact sand, Ahern said.

Ahern said members of the city’s Recreation Office are always very accommodating to them when the couple comes to dig up the court perimeter in search of the terrapin eggs. They also call the Aherns when they spot terrapins around the property.

Turtle nesting boxes behind the Sea Isle Library provide a safe place for terrapins to lay their eggs.

Back in 2010, the Aherns removed 140 eggs and turned them over to the Wetlands Institute to care for them. Since then, the Aherns rescue eggs from there. So far this month they found 72 eggs at the tennis courts, adding that it takes eight to 10 weeks to hatch.

Sea Isle has a deep affinity for turtles. There is even a festival named for a turtle — Sara the Turtle.

On Wednesday Sea Isle City’s Division of Tourism hosted its annual Sara the Turtle Festival at Excursion Park, JFK Boulevard and Pleasure Avenue. The festival included a variety of family activities, nature displays and the chance to pet a menagerie of exotic animals and of course, see terrapins.

The Aherns were at the party. They handed out information about what to do if you see an injured turtle or when eggs are laid in a yard.

Turtles needs to find a sandy place where they can bury their eggs.

“We let people know we can help them out in any way we can,” Ahern said. “

Sea Isle Public Information Officer Katherine Custer said the city is always cautioning motorists to slow down and be on the lookout for turtles crossing the road.”

She said the Aherns are helping to raise awareness about diamondback terrapins.

“Steven and Sue Ahern are wonderful members of the community who care deeply about the diamondback terrapins,” Custer said. “We are very fortunate to have them doing such good work in the community.”

For more information call Steve and Susan Ahern at (609) 263-7358.

The turtles found dead at 11th Street on the beach Memorial Day weekend. (Courtesy Steve Ahern)