This Thing Called Courage

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Turtle Crossing Ahead

ALTHOUGH I HAVEN'T FOUND ANY YET, this is the time of year I usually find turtles trying to cross the Fellsway or Main Street to do their mating/egg-laying thing, and have to rescue them to safer shores. Last year I rescued about half a dozen, including a big whopper of a Momma who must have weighed about 55 pounds. So, when you're out and about on the roads this time of year, watch out for turtles, especially near wetland areas. If you find one (alive) near the road, take a minute and shepherd them across. (Pick them up from the back) This is from today's Boston Globe:

Turtle researcher Mark Grgurovic removed a snapping turtle from a trap he had set in a Merrimack Valley area swamp. (Globe Staff Photo / Mark Wilson)
Turtle lovers tackle road kill problem
Boston Globe
Here's the thing about turtles: They're slow. Also, they're not afraid of cars. And so, when your two-ton sport utility vehicle , or even your eco-friendly hybrid, comes bearing down on a turtle, it's clear which side will prevail.
Keith O'Brien
May 20, 2007
Turtle lovers tackle road kill problem
By Keith O'Brien, Globe Staff May 20, 2007
HAMILTON -- Here's the thing about turtles: They're slow. Also, they're not afraid of cars. And so, when your two-ton sport utility vehicle , or even your eco-friendly hybrid, comes bearing down on a turtle, it's clear which side will prevail.
Hint: It's not the reptile.
"They're just squashed," said Mark Grgurovic , a wildlife biologist studying turtles for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. "Most of them don't make it, they're just so banged-up."
Turtles are in particular danger this time of year. It's mating season. Love -- or at least the instinct to reproduce -- is in the air. And that means the shelled creatures are crossing rural and suburban roads, like Bridge Street in Hamilton on the North Shore, to find mates and, soon, build nests.
Inevitably, some won't make it and specialists are now working to make future mating seasons safer for the turtles. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is building "wildlife crossings" for spotted turtles along the 18-mile Greenbush Line, under construction between Braintree and Scituate. At Framingham State College, students are using road kill data from the last 25 years to map the places where turtles are most likely to get run over . And at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst , assistant professor Paul Sievert is building passageways of different sizes and styles. His goal: create a tunnel that turtles will like and use when they need to cross the road.
"They do a lot of things both as herbivores and carnivores," said Sievert. "They're eating fish in ponds, salamanders, salamander eggs, frogs, frog eggs. Snapping turtles can eat ducklings. They're playing an important role in the food chain. And if you remove that link, it's hard to predict whether things will go awry or not."
Turtles have been around for millions of years and until recently had been doing fine. Once full-grown, they've historically been pretty much indestructible. When threatened, they disappear into their shells. And, as such, they survive. Turtles have been known to live up to 100 years.
But as rural areas have become more suburban, turtles are increasingly becoming targets, said Lori Erb , a turtle conservation biologist for MassWildlife. With more development comes more roads, she said. And with more roads, more turtle casualties.
Since 2001, Erb said, 875 turtles have been found -- dead or alive -- on Massachusetts roads and countless more have died without being documented. It's especially a problem in eastern Massachusetts, Erb said, where a growing population increases the chances that a turtle will be squashed while trying to get to a neighboring pond or wetland.
"Most mating is opportunistic," Erb said. "So they have, perhaps, a typical area that they'll aggregate in. But it's more or less whoever they happen to bump into."
Once a turtle has mated, the female then wanders off in search of warm soil or an open space, creating yet another opportunity to stare down a Ford Explorer. And here's where evolution fails them.
"They have to go across land, over the road," said Virginia Cookson , a member of the Hamilton Conservation Commission. "And they get smushed."
This month, Cookson said, she has found the remnants of three turtles on Bridge Street, near the Miles River , in Hamilton. The handmade "Turtle X-ing" sign that someone recently placed on a telephone pole there apparently isn't helping.
But signs have helped elsewhere. In Norfolk, where there are four official turtle crossing signs, Ellen Friedman , a local turtle lover, said she gets far fewer calls to collect injured turtles than she once did. In the last three summers, she said, she's received one call, compared to the five or six she once received every season.
"We get a lot of laughs when people come through town," Friedman said. "But, truly, people are more aware of it."
The turtles will probably need all the help they can get. It has been estimated that they travel about 33 feet per minute. That means that a turtle would need roughly a minute to cross a two-lane road, Sievert said .
The problem, Sievert conceded, is that it would certainly take longer, what with cars passing and turtles pausing or retreating into their shells. Those who find a turtle in the road should ferry it, when possible, in the direction it was going.
They may not fear traffic, but turtles know where they're headed, and they'll do what it takes to get there. "If that means crossing a double-lane highway , they'll cross it," Grgurovic said.
The squished don't typically live and learn. But there are a few lucky ones.
"Hi, sweetie," Maureen Murray whispered to an injured painted turtle this week as she held him inside the wildlife clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton.
The painted turtle is one of several that people have brought to the clinic this spring.
"They're really amazing creatures, one of the oldest creatures on the planet," Murray said. "It's really quite heartbreaking that they've been around for so long and the thing that's killing them -- or at least one of the things -- is cars."


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