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Keep an eye out for turtles crossing

By Allie Leask,
The Post,
May 30 2017

Nesting season is in full swing which means it’s time to keep our eyes out for our scaly friends that may be attempting perilous road crossings. World Turtle Day was marked on May 23, in an effort to increase awareness to help save the thousands of turtles on their journeys from late May to early June, which often result in injury or death on roadways.

Smera Sukumar, Conservation Science Technician from Ontario Nature explains that the most at risk are “pregnant females crossing to their nesting site.”

It is common to see certain turtles in the same spot every year because they have traditional nesting sites that they go to.

Since the eggs are incubated by the sun’s warmth, the females will usually lay their eggs in the gravel along the roads away from any vegetation that might shade the ground.

Erinn Lawrie, Coastal Stewardship Co-ordinator at the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation says “research has shown that it takes some species of turtles an average of nine minutes to cross a road, making them particularly vulnerable to road mortality during nesting season.”

So if a turtle is trying to make its way across a road, here’s how to assist:

Pull over in a safe spot and be cautious of cars around you.
Use two hands and not too much pressure.
Put your thumbs on top of the shell and your four fingers under the belly.
Do not put your fingers between the top and bottom shell, that could injure the turtle.
Never pick up a turtle by the tail, that could injure its spine.
Do not lift it too far off the ground, some turtles get anxious and try to wiggle free.
Place the turtle on the side of the road that it was facing. This step is very important because turtles know exactly where they want to go so if they’re set on the wrong side of the road they will just try to cross for a second time.

Sukumar explains an alternative way to pick up a turtle is to “hold it like a burger or a sandwich.” Place one hand on the underside and the other hand on the top of the shell. When doing this method it is important that you don’t turn the turtle sideways as that can injure it’s organs and disconnect tissue.

Along with the Midland Painted Turtle one of the most common turtles found crossing in Grey-Bruce is the Snapping Turtle which can be much harder to handle due to their size, speed and bite. These prehistoric-looking turtles can be extremely intimidating but there are ways to help them cross while staying clear of their long necks and quick-snapping mouth.

“There are two notches at the back of the shell so you can wheelbarrow them,” says Sukumar. She also explains that it’s easier for people to place them on car mats and drag them in the direction that they’re heading.

These turtles are on a mission trying to make it to their nesting spots so it’s unlikely that they will try to harm someone, but if there are problems trying to pick up the turtle, Sukumar says, “it’s easier just to walk beside it,” to make sure it reaches the other side safely.

Always be cautious along busy roads, don’t move the turtle if it puts your life in danger.

“Basically we always promote looking out for your own safety,” says Sukumar.

Additionally, if a turtle is seen crossing the road, Sukumar encourages people to report it to Ontario Nature. They keep track of turtle nesting sites to prevent turtles from crossing in certain areas and to help put up any turtle crossing signs that may need to be put up.

Ontario Nature has also recently released a new Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas app for Android and Apple users to make it easier for anyone who wants to report not only a turtle but any reptile or amphibian sightings.

If a turtle is dead or injured Sukumar still would like people to contact Ontario Nature but also the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC). They help treat, rehabilitate and release injured turtles. Their centre is run in Peterborough but they have over 30 Turtle First Response Centres in Ontario. Call them at 705-741-5000 and they can direct you to the nearest First Response Centre.

According to the OTCC website, when handling an injured turtle it is easier to use a shovel or a board to lift it. Note your exact location so it can be released according to provincial regulations and call OTCC immediately. Do not put it in water and make sure to wash your hands after working with the sick or injured turtle.

Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation is also working on bringing awareness to turtle mortalities. Lawrie explains “we are working on an educational program to raise awareness about turtles and protecting our coastal wetlands. We have created an educational video about coastal wetlands and turtles,” says Lawrie. It can be viewed on the main page of the website, www.lakehuron.ca.

They are also going to the Sauble Beach Community Centre on July 8 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. “People will have a chance to meet some Lake Huron turtle species, and learn about the coastal wetlands they call home,” says Lawrie. It is free for anyone who wants to attend and learn more about our local turtles. To register contact them at coastalcentre@lakehuron.ca or 226-421-3029.