By WAYNE PARRY
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ Students from a Jersey shore environmental science school helped get lawmakers to speed up action on a turtle protection bill that had been moving as slowly as, well, a turtle.
The students at Manahawkin’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science got a state senator to introduce a bill in December making it illegal to take diamondback terrapins from the wild. But it hasn’t gone anywhere since, prompting the students to attend Monday’s hearing before a senate committee.
After hearing from five students from the school’s Project Terrapin, the senate environment and energy committee approved the bill and sent it to the full state senate for an as-yet unscheduled vote.
“Terrapins are being overharvested and sold internationally,” student Katie Demarion said.
Other students said the decline of terrapins in the wild mirrors the failing health of Barnegat Bay, which is under intense pressure from pollution caused by rapid development of land along the bay’s shores. Cars kill many turtles each year, and their habitat in coastal marshes is shrinking, but they also are harvested for Asian markets, where they are a popular food.
The students have been studying and trying to protect terrapins since 2002, educating the public about them and researching the turtles’ numbers.
Environmental groups support the bill, as well.
“We need to stick our necks out to protect the turtles,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
New Jersey halted this year’s harvest season for terrapins, but the bill would make the ban permanent.
John Wnek, the school’s supervisor, said the population of terrapins on Sedge Island near the Barnegat Inlet has been declining, from about 100 in 2002 to the low 70s now. And 21 percent of the animals that student researchers catch show signs of injuries from boats.
The New Jersey Audubon Society estimated 4,300 terrapins were illegally taken from the wild last year in New Jersey.