SUSTAINABLY SIMPLE LIFE

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Photo of a turtle
turtle

Turtle season! Watch for turtles!

It is turtle season and I’m raising awareness because turtles need our help this time of year. Well, turtles need our help in general. In the state of Massachusetts, six out of the ten native turtles are listed on under Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA). Why is that?

Most of the time turtles stay in the water, but between April or May through July,  according to some accounts, turtles will travel long distances for various reasons; to find a mate, to lay eggs, and so forth. Once the little turtles hatch, they make their way to the water, and the cycle repeats.

Turtles have been doing this for millions of years. However, along the way, humans  built roads across the expanses that they travel, and that has not gone well for turtles. While turtles can move faster than you might think, they cannot outrun a car. So how can we help?

If you see a turtle trying to get across the road and you can safely pull over to assist, do so. I do this often and I go about it in a few ways. Sometimes I move it myself. I have gloves and a turtle shovel in my trunk and I use whatever is most appropriate for the situation. By turtle shovel, I mean a small snow shovel that is smart to have in my area anyway.  Sometimes it is not wise to touch the turtle, so instead you can either attempt to guide it across the road by walking behind it, or by gently coaxing it along with something that isn’t sharp so as not to harm it. One thing you should never do is pick up a turtle by its tail. Since the tail is part of the turtle’s spinal column you could paralyze or otherwise injure the turtle.

Always help the turtle continue in the direction it is going. Don’t put it back from where it started and don’t take the turtle away from the immediate area. It grew up there, it is near its habitat and knows exactly where it needs to go to nest, and where it needs to go to get back to its home.  

Take caution if you are approaching a snapping turtle. They can turn and move fast, and you don’t want them to bite or claw at you. They are strong. Before I was more educated on snapping turtles, I had an experience with one that could have gone badly. 

I saw a turtle making its way across a busy road that I frequent. It was good sized—a little over a foot wide. I walked up behind the turtle quickly, picked it up, and moved it to the sidewalk that it was headed for. Before I put it down, it bucked its head backwards and startled me, but thankfully I didn’t drop it. I did hasten to put it down to let it go on its way. The turtle wasn’t pleased. I don’t blame it; I wouldn’t want anyone coming up from behind me and picking me up either.

I was lucky  because I would later find out that this was a snapping turtle! Not too intelligent on my part. It could have turned and given me an awful bite.

You can pick some turtles up but do some reading on it. Some sources describe the safest way to pick turtles up, others say not to do it at all. Plus, you really shouldn’t try picking a snapper up like I did. The Turtle Rescue League has some great pointers—www.turtlerescueleague.com.

Just the other day I came across a turtle that had nearly made it to the side of the road. My partner and I pulled over to usher it the rest of the way. As I approached the turtle I observed that it had already been struck by a vehicle. Not wanting to cause further injury, my partner and I were struggling to sort out how to move the turtle. A kind member of the Environmental Police happened by and stopped to help. He took a look at the turtle and said that based upon the extent of the injury, it most likely wouldn’t survive. He then assisted us in moving the turtle off the hot road where it scurried down the embankment.

Later that evening after thinking about the incident further, I did some research and learned that I could have brought the turtle to a wildlife rescue. I learned a few things that I want to share should you end up in a similar situation. 

Area wildlife rescues, veterinarians, and veterinarian schools will often take wild turtles. Be familiar with whatever places are local to you by referencing www.mass.gov/service-details/find-a-wildlife-rehabilitator. 

Turtles have a slow metabolism and if they are grievously injured, it can take time for them to pass. I struggle with this knowing that the turtle I encountered may be suffering.

To that point, I come to this. Even if a turtle is grievously injured, a wildlife sanctuary is better equipped to make a judgment call and euthanize a turtle if they cannot be healed.

If nothing else, you do a turtle a kindness if you get it off the hot road. 

The local authorities may or may not suggest to take an injured turtle or any injured wild animal for that matter to a sanctuary so do your homework if you come across an animal needing help. 

We share the roads with turtles, and we have an unfair advantage over them. If you happen by one, help it out. They are part of our native wildlife and we can help make sure they stay with us for a long time. 

Lisa Grasso is an environmental activist and advocate for sustainable practices in both business and at home. To see more topics go to: https://sustainablysimplelife.com/