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Diamondback Dash: Project Information and Sign Up

The sign up window has closed for 2024, please check back early next year if you are interested in participating.

Diamondback Terrapin female. Photo credit: Jason Crawley

The Diamondback Dash is a volunteer data-collection initiative which utilizes volunteers to paddle a predetermined “loop” and report back on their terrapin sightings. Each loop contains anywhere from one to four locations where volunteers are asked to pause and conduct a short observational survey known as a “head count” for terrapins.

Before you sign up, please be aware that there are two different volunteer roles/opportunities associated with the project, Loop Adopters and Sampling Volunteers. Only those interested in serving as a Loop Adopter should sign up via the Adoption Portal. 

Important Project Dates

2024 Virtual Training Dates:

Volunteers must attend ONE of the following sessions

Thursday, April 4th (6:00pm)

Saturday, April 6th (2:00pm)

Monday, April 8th (7:00pm)

2024 Sampling Windows:

Spring sampling period: May 4th-25th

Summer sampling period: July 6th-27th

Fall sampling period: September 14th-October 5th

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between Loop Adopters and Sampling Volunteers?

Loop Adopters are the individuals that complete the online form within the Adoption Portal (link available below) to officially adopt a loop. They serve as the point of contact for receiving and passing along communications from DWR to the loop volunteers.  Adopters are also responsible for recruiting at least one (but no more than three) sampling volunteers to assist with sampling and make sure that any recruited sampling volunteers attend one of the mandatory training sessions. Finally, it is typically the Loop Adopters that schedule sampling events and ensure that the data is collected and submitted in accordance with the outlined DWR protocols.

Sampling volunteers have less responsibility than  Loop Adopters but are still an incredibly vital part of the team! These are the volunteers that accompany a Loop Adopter on sampling trips and assist with data collection and terrapin observation.

There is no difference in the roles and responsibilities associated with either role when sampling in the field. Both Loop Adopters and Loop Volunteers will be paddling, observing for terrapins, and collecting data while completing a sampling session.

What does sampling entail?

Sampling will occur three times per year with each sampling event taking place sometime with the 2024 Sampling Windows (May 4th-25th; July 6th-27th September 14th-October 5th).  Volunteers will launch at  the designated access site for the relevant loop and then paddle along the predetermined route to the head count locations. At each head count location, volunteers will be asked to complete a stationary, five-minute survey where they will record information on the number of turtles they see at that location. Following the completion of each survey, they will continue to paddle along the route until all head count surveys have been completed and they have arrived back at the location from which they launched.

Where are sampling loops/routes located and how long are they?

We have over 100 different routes/loops that have been mapped along the brackish/coastal waters of the Eastern Shore, the James River, the York River, the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River and their numerous tributaries which are available for sampling. Each route/loop starts and ends at either a publicly accessible boating access site or a private site where explicit permission has been obtained to use the property by the DWR for the purposes of this project.

Each loop varies in length with the shortest loops being a roughly one mile roundtrip paddle, and the longest loops being no more than five miles.

To view the interactive map that displays the numerous adoptable loops as well as associated information such as length,  please access it via the link included in the final FAQ question. We have done our best to offer up a variety of adoptable loops within diamondback terrapin habitat across the state. If you do not see any loops available for adoption near you it could be due to a variety of reasons such as living outside of the expected terrapin range, limited access to public launches in the area, or nearby loops have already been adopted.

Who is eligible to participate?

In order to participate, all Loop Adopters and Sampling Volunteers should meet the following criteria:

  1. They are age 18 or older.
  2. Agree to follow all project-mandated safety protocol while sampling.
  3. They are an active Virginia Master Naturalist and/or a DWR volunteer registered within DWR’s volunteer management system. If you would like to participate but do not meet this criteria at this time, you may still sign up as a Loop Adopter or Sampling Volunteer as long as these conditions are met at the actual date of sampling. Learn more about how to become a certified DWR volunteer, here!

What supplies do I need for participation?

Participants will need to have their own kayak and paddling equipment. While some of our routes launch from facilities that offer kayak rentals, this is not very common. If a site does offer kayak rentals, that information will be viewable on the route’s informational pop-up on the Adoption Portal (linked in a below question). You will also need a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), which must be worn at all times regardless of kayaking experience or swimming proficiency. The below lists outline additional materials which are required for participation as well as some other items which are suggested for participated, but not required.

Required items for sampling: Kayaks and paddles, a PFD (lifejacket), noisemaker (horn, whistle, or bell), smartphone or tablet for data entry, drinking water

Suggestions to make sampling easier and more enjoyable: Drybag, quick drying clothes, hat, sunglasses, waterproof sunscreen, bug spray, portable phone charger, snacks, towel, tally counters, binoculars, printed route map, first aid kit/supplies.

Can a loop have multiple Loop Adopters?

In order to streamline things on DWR’s end, there can only be one Loop Adopter per loop. However, each Loop Adopter needs to have at least one (but no more than three) sampling volunteers accompany them on sampling trips to help with monitoring and data collection.

Can I adopt or assist with the sampling of multiple loops?

Absolutely! If you are confident you can manage the work associated with volunteering for more than one loop, you are free to do so. Multiple loops can be adopted and sampled by the same individual. Likewise, you could serve as a loop adopter for one loop and a sampling volunteer for a different loop. Or, you could serve as a sampling volunteer for multiple loops but not as a loop adopter for any loops.

Do I need to attend a training session to participate?

All participants ( i.e. both Loop Adopters and Sampling Volunteers) need to attend ONE of the following training sessions to receive pertinent project instructions and safety information prior to hitting the water.

Why can’t I adopt and sample a loop by myself?

The data collection process requires at least two individuals to complete and because our first and foremost concern is for the  safety of our volunteers, we do not want any volunteers out sampling alone.

Regardless of individual experience level, it is always a best practice to have a second person with you on the water. Accidents happen! In the event of an unforeseen accident or medical emergency, we would never want one of our volunteers to be on the water by themselves and in harm’s way.

Further, having a second pair of eyes can be helpful in gathering more data. Sometimes all that’s visible of a diamondback terrapin is a small head sticking out of the water. Having a second pair of eyes on board can make sure that it gets counted!

I have little to no experience on a kayak, can I still participate?

Absolutely! If you have no experience on a kayak, we recommend signing up for a loop that is designated as “suitable for paddlers of all skill levels including beginners” within the Adoption Portal. And while it isn’t mandatory, we would encourage you to get one or two practice paddles in on calm, inland waters before participating in your first sampling event.

Does DWR provide kayaks or other equipment for use in conjunction with his project?

At this time, the DWR is unable to provide the kayaks and other equipment (e.g. paddles, life jackets, smart phones for data collection) that are needed. Volunteers are expected to either own or have access to these materials in order to participate in the project.

Some routes start from locations that do have kayak rentals available on-site. Those locations will have this noted on theroute’s informational pop-up on the Adoption Portal (linked in a below question).