Published on August 10, 2021

Volunteer’s Book About Diamondback Terrapins Returns to Print

Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin
Barbara Brennessel

Wellfleet Bay volunteer Barbara Brennessel’s popular 2006 book about North America's only salt marsh turtle is returning to print this fall.

The new edition of Diamonds in the Marsh: A Natural History of the Diamondback Terrapin, will be released by Brandeis University Press on September 1, 2021.

Her book is filled with information about the biology, natural history, and current conservation needs of the Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), a threatened species in Massachusetts and other states within its range.

This re-issued edition features a new introduction by Barbara and a foreword by Wellfleet Bay sanctuary director emeritus Bob Prescott.

Diamonds in the Marsh: A Natural History of the Diamondback Terrapin © Brandeis University Press
© Brandeis University Press

Second Career Launched at Wellfleet Bay

A biology professor and PhD at Wheaton College, Barbara's interest in terrapins was first sparked about 20 years ago by attending one of the sanctuary’s Cape Cod Field School programs with her daughter, Adriana. These days, Barbara co-leads that same Field School course with Bob Prescott.

"Barbara's switch from lab scientist to field biologist helped us all do a better job of learning about terrapins and ultimately protecting them," Bob notes in his foreword to the book.

Besides contributing to research on terrapin sub-species, Barbara also pioneered methods to protect nests from predators without adversely impacting nest temperatures and possibly skewing hatchling sex ratios.

Increased Understanding & Awareness

In the 15 years since her book’s initial release, more studies have confirmed Barbara's work to shed light on the post-hatching phase of a terrapin’s life. She found that very young turtles overwinter in upland areas and prefer to forage in fresher, less-salty water.

While terrapins remain threatened, Barbara says the species is more closely monitored now than it was when she began studying them. Progress has also been made in reducing mortality due to excessive harvest, traps used in the blue crab fishery, and road kills.

As she reflects on what's changed for the better, Barbara’s years as a college professor become evident. "I am heartened by the fact that I have observed several generations of students, graduate as well as undergraduate, become involved in research and efforts to protect terrapins."

The new edition of Diamonds in the Marsh: A Natural History of the Diamondback Terrapin, will be released by Brandeis University Press on September 1, 2021.