TURTLES ON THE ROAD
Sometimes we forget just how vast the networks of roads throughout Ontario really is, it is enormous! Most of the land that is now occupied by roads was land that turtles and other wildlife once had available to them to roam without the dangers roads pose to them. A lot of roads in cottage country and other areas throughout Ontario are built adjacent, near the lakes and some cut right through wetland features turtles inhabit which means these roads are potentially on their doorstep , as such often high-risk road mortality 'hots pots'. The turtles have no choice but to cross the roads.
All of the eight turtle species native to Ontario are considered semi-aquatic. This means they spend some of their life cycle in water and some time out of water for such things as basking, mating, nesting or migrating from one seasonal habitat to another. Even wood turtles which spend more time on land are considered semi-aquatic.
In addition to their routine seasonal activities there are other factors that may result in turtles being out of water and ending up near or on roads. These can include; habitat disturbances causes by construction/logging, flooding, droughts, the presence of predators, moving between different aquatic food sources, etc. Sometimes only a turtle knows and it comes down to the turtle having somewhere it needs to be unfortunately putting them in danger of being struck by a motor vehicle.
It is the activities that the turtles engage in on land that cause increased road crossings which can prompt turtles to show up on the road at any time between April and October, even into November.
In the event of a possible roadside stop to assist a turtle across the road or retrieve an injured turtle from the road it is imperative to make 'SAFETY YOUR #1 PRIORITY'. For every stop please be sure to ensure your safety, the safety of passengers with you and the safety of the other motorists on the road.
If you spot a turtle on the road, before slowing down, check your mirrors and blind spot to see when the way is clear and then safely pull over off the road and on to the shoulder as far as possible and put on your hazard lights. If there is no shoulder or the shoulder is too narrow drive until you find a safe shoulder and safely double back on foot. Do not park in the middle of a lane to help a turtle or any wildlife across the road or retrieve an injured turtle. Doing this could cause an accident that could effect the rest of your life, your passengers and/or another motorist(s) on the road.
If you have any doubts in this regard and consider it a perfectly okay thing to do if you put on your hazard lights, please google 'Emma Czornobaj' the young lady that in 2010 stopped to help some ducklings across the road. We assure this is not a safe road practice nor is 'braking for an animal' on the road. Please safely pull off the road and on to a shoulder as far over as possible. Wearing a high visibility safety vest is 'strongly' recommended to increase visibility as well as gloves for when handling a turtle or sanitary wipes if you choose not to wear gloves.
We must always keep our head about us no matter how urgent the need is to get to the turtle or upsetting the circumstances are. No one should be slamming on their brakes and exiting their vehicle while parked on the road to help a turtle or any wildlife! This reaction is the type that can cause accidents and if observed by an OPP officer could justifiably result in a fine or caution. Not to mention the possibility of fueling media attention that could serve to undermine and jeopardize efforts to help the turtles.
Always move the turtle in the direction the turtle was headed even if it makes no sense to you. If you turn the turtle around the turtle will end up back on the road again heading to the original designation intended. This may put the turtle in harms way second time crossing and we don't want that.
If you intend to take a photo of the turtle as a keepsake and/or so you can officially report the sighting to a citizen science program such as iNaturalist, Ontario Turtle Tally NHIC or Turtle Guardians, please take your photo 'after' you and the turtle are safely off the road and well back on the road shoulder.
Officially reporting turtle sightings is very important to help track turtle activity, identify threatened and endangered species and high risk turtle road mortality locations known as 'hot spots.' All of which contribute to important science based turtle studies, tracking data, threatened and endangered species activity and/or play a part in potential mitigation sites being assessed and installed to enable turtles and other wildlife to travel under the road instead of on it in harms way. However, do not put your safety, your passengers safety or other motorists at risk for a photo if there are any concerns at all.
If you have any questions regarding this subject or other turtle related matters please do not hesitate to contact Think Turtle Conservation Initiative at 647-606-9537 (phone/text) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for looking out for species at risk!
Road safety is of the utmost importance when stopping to assist wildlife in harms way.