Spring is here, and while we often celebrate the return of the birds and bees, we often forget this is also the time of the year when turtles lay their eggs.
Turtles can sometimes travel over several kilometres to find an ideal nesting site. And in some cases, this can mean crossing roads. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is encouraging drivers to be vigilant this spring, as turtles sometimes lay their eggs on roadsides 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, and all of them are at risk.
Anyone who sees a turtle on their property or in the street is encouraged to report its presence on the website carapace.ca. It takes about five minutes to report a turtle sighting on the bilingual website, which also includes information on turtle species in Quebec and what to do if the turtle is injured. These observations help conservation organizations such as NCC introduce protective measures for turtles across Quebec.
“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,” says Francisco Retamal Diaz, a project coordinator with the NCC. “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,” he adds.
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 were reported to the site, bringing the total number of reports to more than 10,000 to date. The province’s Eastern Townships and Montérégie regions have the most sightings, followed by the Laurentians and the Outaouais. Since April 1, there have already been 106 sightings submitted to the website.
What to do if you see a turtle on the road
First, be sure it is safe to stop along the road. Help the turtle cross the road towards the direction it was going. A turtle that can hide its head in its shell (such as a Blanding’s or a painted turtle) can be gently lifted and carried using both hands to support its plastron (the belly). Carry the turtle close to the ground so it is not injured if you accidentally drop it.
The carrying technique is much different for snapping turtles, which are large, grey, and have heavy, spiny tails. Their strong shell has “handles” at the back (on each side of the tail). Use the 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, such as a car mat or snow shovel, which will make it easier to move. Be careful, as some species, like snapping turtles, can cause serious bites. Never pick up a turtle by its tail, as this can cause damage to its internal organs.
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 the turtle is injured, contact the Éco-Nature rehabilitation centre immediately at email@example.com.