Nature Conservancy of Canada wants motorists to help turtles cross the road and get to the other side
Many people may feel a bit like turtles this spring — eager to soon safely emerge from our shells and get back to enjoying the world. For humans, this might mean masking up and swapping sweatpants for going-out clothes. For turtles, it means braving busy roads to find mates and get to their nesting grounds.
As we all emerge from our dens and hit the road on new adventures, wildlife sightings — and collisions with vehicles — are more likely to involve turtles. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is asking motorists to give turtles a break by keeping a keen eye out for the threatened creatures who may be basking on the pavement or simply trying to cross the road.
Spring is an active period for turtles that are setting off from their usual habitats to find mates and nesting sites. The many at-risk species of turtles in Canada, like other reptiles, are cold-blooded, so basking on gravel, sandy roadsides or warm asphalt feels good on cool spring days. And while a turtle’s shell can protect it from predators, it’s no match for a car. Every turtle lost in a vehicle collision has a significant domino effect for its entire species.
Turtles can take up to 25 years before reproducing, and their egg survival rate is very low. Approximately only two eggs out of 100 become adult turtles. A loss of one adult turtle is the loss of 20 years of development. To maintain their numbers within a population, turtles count on the survival of the adults, especially the females. Studies show that just a five per cent increase in annual mortality can put an entire population at risk of decline.
“Turtles are not just adorable, they’re an important part of wetland ecosystems,” said Francisco Retamal Diaz, NCC project coordinator. “They play the role of the wetland janitor by helping keep wetlands clean and healthy by eating dead plants, insects and animals.”
Turtle deaths are a major issue in some parts of the country. In Quebec, six turtle species are provincially designated as special concern, theatened, or vulnerable under the Government of Quebec's Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species: wood turtle, map turtle, spiny softshell turtle, Blanding's turtle, eastern painted turtle and eastern musk turtle.
NCC encourages people to report turtle sightings and upload photos on carapace.ca, which helps informe where conservation efforts should be directed. To date, the website has received nearly 6,000 documented sightings of turtles. More than 20 Quebec roads and highways have been identified as hot spots for turtle-vehicle collisions, including a strech of road in the Outaouais region where new turtle fencing will be added this summer to guide turtles to a culvert that they can use to safely cross the road. More than 3,600 people have submitted on carapace.ca.
Tips and facts
- To help a turtle safely cross the road, first make sure the road is safe for you to pull over and help. Put your safety first.
- Move the turtle in the direction it was going, otherwise it will likely try to cross again.
- For turtles that hide their heads in their shells (like Blanding’s turtle and Midland painted turtle), simply pick the turtle up, gently holding it with both hands, supporting its belly and holding the top of its shell (the way you might hold a hamburger), and carry it across the road. Carry it close to the ground — you don’t want to drop it.
- Snapping turtles can weigh as much as 34 kilograms and have heavy, spiked tails and massive, armoured shells. These turtles cannot hide their heads in their shells and have a dangerously sharp snout. They are large and grey. To move them and avoid injury to the turtle, lift them using the “handles” on either side of their tales on the back of their shells and “wheelbarrow” them across the road on their front legs. If you have a car matt or a shovel, carefully slide the turtle onto this and drag the matt or shovel across the road.
- Once you are done moving the turtle, back away and let the turtle be, to avoid causing it stress.
- Pushing or shoving turtles across the road with your feet or a stick is unadvisable. Their shells aren't as thick underneath, and rough pavement can do a lot of damage.
- Other threats to turtles include habitat loss, invasive species and illegal collection for the pet trade.
NCC would like to thank the financial partners who have contributed to the creation of the carapace platform:
- The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec;
- the Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques du Québec (through the project Partenariat pour les milieux naturels), whose contributions have allowed NCC to carry out inventories in priority areas; the acquired data leading to the acquisitions of properties of importance for the protection of turtles;
- the Équipe de rétablissemment des tortues du Québec;
- the Fondation de la faune du Québec;
- and all those who have made individual donations on our website.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect 14 million hectares (35 million acres), coast to coast to coast, including 48,000 hectares (close to 119,00 acres) in Quebec.
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