Give turtles a "brake" when they're crossing the road.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is asking motorists to brake for turtles as they cross busy roads to find mates or get to their nesting ground.

Early summer is an active period for turtles, and like all other reptiles, they are cold-blooded and often bask on gravel, sandy roadsides and warm asphalt. Although a turtle's shell can protect it from predators, it's no match for a car, said Andrew Holland, spokesman for the NCC.

Holland said every turtle lost in a vehicle collision has a significant domino effect on its entire species. Turtles count on the survival of the adults, especially the females, to maintain population health. Turtles can take up to 25 years before reproducing, and their egg survival rate is very low. Approximately only two eggs out of 100 become adult turtles.

A loss of one adult turtle is the loss of 20 years of development. Studies show that just a five per cent increase in annual mortality can put an entire population at risk of decline.

Turtle populations are listed as threatened or endangered in many provinces as they have diminished due to collisions with vehicles.

All eight turtle species are at risk in Ontario, where Blanding's turtles are more endangered than pandas.

"Turtles are in many ways the unsung heroes of our wetland ecosystems," said Kristyn Ferguson, program director with the NCC. "They help keep wetlands clean and healthy by eating dead plants, insects and animals, and play the role of the wetland janitor."

Tips for moving turtles:

  • To help a turtle safely cross the road, first make sure the road is safe for you to pull over and help. Put your safety first.
  • Move the turtle in the direction it was going, otherwise, it will likely try to cross again.
  • For turtles that hide their heads in their shells (like Blanding's turtle and Midland painted turtle), simply pick the turtle up, gently holding it with both hands, supporting its belly and holding the top of its shell (the way you might hold a hamburger), and carry it across the road. Carry it close to the ground — you don't want to drop it.
  • Snapping turtles can weigh as much as 34 kilograms and have heavy, spiked tails and massive, armoured shells. These turtles cannot hide their heads in their shells and have a dangerously sharp snouts. They are large and grey. To move them and avoid injury to the turtle, lift them using the "handles" on either side of their tails on the back of their shells and "wheelbarrow" them across the road on their front legs. If you have a car mat or a shovel, carefully slide the turtle onto this and drag the mat or shovel across the road.
  • Once you are finished moving the turtle, back away and leave it alone to avoid causing it stress.
  • Pushing or shoving turtles across the road with your feet or a stick is unadvisable. Their shells aren't as thick underneath, and rough pavement can damage them.