Hatchlings such as this one discovered on rocks outside a home at 84th Street in Sea Isle City need to be placed in marshlands for safety. (Photos courtesy of Lisa Matonti)


They say life is full of little surprises. For Lisa Matonti, one “little surprise” came in the form of a diminutive diamondback terrapin hatchling that was in her backyard on 84th Street in Sea Isle City.

“He was right outside of my door around 1 p.m. in my fenced-in side yard, moving through my little grassy patch and then into my rocks,” Matonti said of the discovery Tuesday afternoon.

While diamondback terrapins can live up to 30 to 40 years, predators, traffic and roadwork can be real threats. This year, with the weather being mild, hatchlings came out earlier than usual.

Husband and wife Steve and Susan Ahern, who founded Sea Isle Terrapin Rescue in 2009, have rescued thousands of diamondbacks over the years. They are well aware of the dangers that terrapins face.

Over the years, the Aherns have reminded motorists to use caution when driving during turtle nesting season. “Watch For Turtles” signs are displayed throughout town warning of turtle crossings.

From nesting season, which is typically from May to August, when females come out of the marsh in search of sandy soil to lay their eggs, to hatchling time motorists and others in town need to be mindful of the turtles.

Hatchlings, like the one Lisa Matonti discovered, started to emerge earlier this year than in prior years.

“There are lots of hatchlings trying to get back to the marsh right now,” Ahern said Wednesday. “If people see them, they should bring them to the dry grass area in front of the marsh and not put them in the water as they will get gobbled up (by predators).”

Sonny, a Labrador retriever and family pet of the Matontis, is the first to discover the diminutive turtle.

Hatchlings started showing up around town as early as March during some of the milder days, Ahern said.

Matonti, a retired Allstate insurance agent, and her husband, Derek, a retired boilermaker, make Sea Isle their home six months a year. The parents of three grown children spend the rest of the year in their hometown of West Chester, Pa.

One of the many things they love about being at the shore is the natural beauty, and with that comes the wonders of nature and the tiny terrapins trekking across their property.

“I started hollering to come and to look at the baby turtle,” Matonti said of calling out to her husband about her discovery.

But she wasn’t exactly the first in the family to notice the terrapin. The family pet, an 8-year-old Labrador retriever named Sonny, “spotted something moving and had to check him out. That’s when I spotted him,” Matonti said.

Thankfully, Sonny is a kind and gentle loving dog.

Then it came time for the Matontis to figure out the best place to put the terrapin to give him “a fighting chance,” she said.

“We actually took him back to the marsh on our block of 84th Street to set him free,” Lisa Matonti said. “We are hoping the little guy can survive.”

Lisa and Derek Matonti pose for a photo in the summer of 2023 at O’Donnell’s Pour House in Sea Isle.