The Eastern Box Turtle is a species of special concern in New York State, where all turtles native to the state are in decline. Photo: Adobe Stock

Wildlife advocates are asking drivers to be aware of turtles crossing the road, as the reptiles begin to come out of hibernation in May and June to mate and nest.

Drivers should be especially careful for turtles crossing on roads near wooded areas and wetlands on Long Island, according to Karen Testa, the executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport. Her nonprofit organization feeds and rehabilitates around 190 turtles each year.

“I’m urging everyone to be very aware of turtles when you’re driving,” Testa said. “They’re so vulnerable this time of year as their natural instinct is to do what they’ve done for millions of years — regardless of roads — and that is to find a mate.”

Testa said that people should also be vigilant about turtles while mowing their lawns and when letting their dogs off a leash, since turtles can be hidden in tall grass and easily harmed by both.

The population of all of New York’s native turtles are in decline, according to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and losing even one female turtle can further damage the prospects of the species’ long-term survival here. It may take more than 10 years for a turtle to reach breeding age, and since they lay just one small clutch of eggs each year, the loss of a breeding female can have a significant effect on the local population, the DEC says.

The DEC advises drivers who encounter turtles on the road to move them if the area is safe enough. It’s important to assist them to the side of the road they were heading for, or they will simply start their journey over again. Most turtles can be moved by picking them up from the sides of their shell. For snapping turtles, whose necks can reach longer distances, the DEC recommends picking them up from the back of their shells or to put a car mat under them and slide them out of the road.

If a turtle is injured or hit, contact Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons at 631-779-3737.

Turtles of New York State by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com