In recognition of World Turtle Day® on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos reminded New Yorkers that turtles are nesting in May and June, and asked motorists to “give turtles a brake.” In New York, thousands of turtles 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,” Commissioner 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 drivers to be on the lookout for turtles and slow down, particularly on roads near rivers and marshy 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 and drivers are able to safely do so, motorists should consider moving the turtle to the shoulder on the side of the road in the direction it was facing. 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 shells. 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 doing so can dislocate the tail bones.
A licensed wildlife rehabilitator may be able to help if an injured turtle is found.
DEC reminds people not to take turtles home. All native turtles are protected by law and cannot be kept without a DEC permit. Most of the 11 species of land turtles that are 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. Learn more about New York’s native turtles at DEC’s website.
Four species of sea turtles can be found in New York waters, and these turtles are all either threatened or endangered. Visit DEC’s website to learn more about sea turtles. Anyone that encounters a sea turtle on the beach should not put it back in the water, instead the public is advised to call the New York State 24-Hour Stranding Hotline at (631) 369-9829 and a trained responder will provide instructions.
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.