Spot a turtle on the road? Here's how you can help it
Join the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s efforts to protect turtles
Birds are singing, bees are buzzing and turtles are laying eggs. This is the time of year when turtles embark on their long journey, sometimes covering several kilometres, to find an ideal nesting site. Being slow doesn’t prevent them from covering long distances, however; the main problem is roads, as they obviously have no idea what a traffic light is and are unaware of the danger. Here’s how the public can take steps to ensure the turtles’ safety.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is encouraging drivers to be vigilant this spring, as turtles sometimes lay their eggs on road surfaces or attempt to cross roadways to find suitable habitat, especially near wetlands. And while their shells offer effective protection against predators, they're no match for a vehicle. There are nine species of turtles in Quebec, all of which are at risk.
Over the past few years, NCC has helped introduce measures, such as road signs and wildlife crossings, to protect turtles at strategic locations throughout the province, which are identified through carapace.ca. Anyone who sees a turtle on their property or in the street is encouraged to report its presence on the website. These observations help conservation organizations such as NCC introduce protective measures for turtles across Quebec.
The number of annual turtle observations has increased steadily since carapace.ca launched in 2017 and, in 2022, observations doubled. Nearly 1,800 turtle sightings have been reported to the site, bringing the total number of reports to more than 10,000, to date.
The Eastern Townships and Montérégie regions of the province have the most sightings, followed by the Laurentians and Outaouais. Since some turtle species can be found across regions, the help of the public is of utmost importance in protecting them everywhere.
What to do if you see a turtle on the road
- Check to see whether it is safe to stop; your safety is the most important thing.
- Help the turtle cross the road in the direction it was going. Be careful, as some species, like snapping turtle, can cause serious bites.
- After helping the turtle, back away so as not to cause it too much stress and take a picture of it for recording on carapace.ca.
If you see an injured turtle, contact the Éco-Nature rehabilitation centre immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to move a turtle
For a turtle that can hide its head in its shell (e.g., a Blanding's turtle or a painted turtle), simply gently lift it with both hands (like holding a hamburger), supporting its plastron (the belly) and its back, and carry it across the road. Carry it close to the ground to avoid hurting it if you accidentally drop it.
The technique is different for snapping turtles, which are large, grey and have heavy, spiny tails and look similar to a dinosaur. Their massive, strong shell has "handles" at the back (on each side of its tail). Use those handles to lift the turtle’s back end, and walk it across the road while allowing it to lean on its front legs, wheelbarrow-style. Alternatively, you can slide it onto something you might have in your vehicle, such as a car mat or snow shovel, which will make it easier to move.
Never pick up a turtle by the tail as this can cause damage to its internal organs.
"Each turtle that dies in a traffic collision has a significant cascading effect on its entire species, as an individual can take up to 25 years to reproduce. The survival rate of turtle eggs is very low, and only two per cent of turtles reach adulthood. Losing a single adult means a 20-year delay in the development of a population." – Francisco Retamal Diaz, project coordinator, Nature Conservancy of Canada
- Studies have shown that a mere five per cent increase in annual mortality is enough to cause an entire turtle population to decline. Maintaining a given population size depends on the survival of the adults, especially females.
- The turtles most frequently reported on carapace.ca — snapping turtles (54 per cent of observations) and painted turtles (30 per cent) — are also the ones most often found injured or dead.
NCC would like to thank the ministère de l'Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs (MELCCFP), Resolute Forest Products and the Government of Canada, through the Department of Environment and Climate Change in allowing us to implement concrete measures for the protection of turtles.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the country’s unifying force for nature. We seek solutions to the twin crises of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change through large-scale, permanent land conservation. As a trusted partner, we work with people, communities, businesses and government to protect and care for our most important natural areas. Since 1962, we have brought Canadians together to conserve and restore more than 15 million hectares, including nearly 50,000 hectares in Quebec. NCC is a registered charity. With nature, we build a thriving world. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.
Resolute Forest Products is a global leader in the forest products industry with a diverse range of products, including market pulp, tissue, wood products and papers, which are marketed in over 60 countries. The company owns or operates some 40 facilities, as well as power generation assets, in the United States and Canada. Resolute has third-party certified 100% of its managed woodlands to internationally recognized sustainable forest management standards. Resolute has received regional, North American and global recognition for its leadership in corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, as well as for its business practices. Visit www.resolutefp.com for more information.
The MELCCFP oversees the sustainable management of wildlife for the benefit of all Quebec citizens. As part its wildlife mission, the Ministry aims to maintain biodiversity and ensure the conservation of species by protecting and enhancing their habitats. It collaborates with numerous stakeholders in the field, including its longstanding partner, the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the federal Department of Environment and Climate Change.
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