State to area motorists: Give nesting turtles a brake

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ALBANY — New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos is reminding New Yorkers that thousands of turtles — who nest in May and June across the Mohawk Valley and the state — are killed each year by unsuspecting drivers when turtles cross roads to find nesting areas. 

“While a turtle’s shell provides protection from predators, it does not protect against being struck by vehicles while crossing roadways,” Seggos said. 

“Vehicle strikes are a major cause of mortality among turtles and New York’s native turtles are more susceptible at this time of year as they seek sandy areas or loose soil in which to lay their eggs. Especially in these coming weeks, DEC urges New York drivers to be on the lookout for turtles and slow down, particularly on roads near rivers and marshy areas,” Seggos added.

The Central New York region has no shortage of rivers, creeks, streams and marshy areas that provide suitable habitats for turtles — and many of the regions bustling roadways, such as Route 49, are in close proximity in many stretches with turtle nesting areas.

Drivers who see a turtle on the road are encouraged to slow down to avoid hitting it with their vehicle. If the vehicle can safely stop, motorists should consider moving the turtle to the shoulder on the side of the road in the direction it was facing, if drivers are able to safely do so. 

Motorists are advised not to pick turtles up by their tails, which could injure the turtle.

Most turtles, other than snapping turtles, can be picked up safely by the sides of their shell. Snapping turtles have necks that can reach far back and have a strong bite, so if motorists try to help a snapping turtle, they should pick it up by the rear of the shell near the tail using both hands or slide a car mat under the turtle to drag it safely across the road. Do not drag the turtle by the tail as that can dislocate the tail bones.

Monday, according to the DEC, was World Turtle Day as proclaimed by the American Tortoise Rescue, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle. The day was developed to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. But the day, officials said, was just the beginning of the effort to help save turtles from being killed by unsuspecting motorists.

Turtles, according to the DEC announcement, have been around for 200 million years, yet are rapidly disappearing due to smuggling, the exotic food industry, climate change, loss of habitat, and the illegal pet trade.

The DEC reminds people not to take turtles home. All native turtles are protected by law and cannot be kept without a DEC permit.

All 11 species of land turtles native to New York are in decline. Turtles are long-lived species and it takes many years for a turtle to reach maturity. Even losing one mature female can have a negative impact on a local population. 

Four species of sea turtles can be found in New York waters, and these turtles are all either threatened or endangered. Visit www.dec.ny.gov/animals/112355.html to learn more.

To help turtles and other wildlife, New Yorkers are encouraged to:

-Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink: these are simple steps to help protect all wildlife;

-Don’t litter: unwanted trash makes its way just about everywhere, including into our creeks, lakes, rivers, and the ocean;

-Don’t release balloons or lanterns: releasing balloons into the environment is potentially fatal for many different wildlife, including sea turtles that commonly mistake balloons and plastic bags for prey items like jellyfish;

-Volunteer for beach and park clean-ups; and

-Stay informed and share your knowledge with others.

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