Watch Out for That Turtle! Drivers are Crushing Endangered Ones in NJ
There are a few turtle species currently listed as endangered in the Garden State, and the danger they face may be more present this time of year than any other.
It's prime nesting season for New Jersey's shelled friends, and females are on the hunt for an ideal spot to care for their unhatched young.
"All turtles start to be active during the summer, and most turtles run the risk of being hit by cars during the warmer months," said Brian Williamson, research scientist for The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor.
Diamondback terrapins are a special case because their presence on the roads, especially in Cape May County, is overwhelming.
"You go drive down a lot of these shore town roads and you'll just seem them crushed all over the place," said Chris Leone, owner of conservation group Garden State Tortoise.
Leone noted another threat to turtles is "human encroachment" — development of land that had previously been designated as a turtle's "home range."
To put a dent in the number of road casualties, The Wetlands Institute and other local groups install and maintain tubing as a barrier between bodies of water and the road.
"We run it along the side of the road and stake it down, so that way the terrapins can't get underneath it, and actually, it's not possible for terrapins to climb over it," Williamson said. "It's not 100 percent effective, but it does reduce the numbers that we see on roadways."
The group also has a 38-mile route it travels to save road-traveling turtles, as well as the eggs of turtles that failed to survive the trip. The eggs can be incubated, and the gender of the young is decided by the temperature of the incubation.
If you see a turtle in the road and want to help, experts advice that you move the turtle in the direction it's headed.
The Christie administration on Monday proposed an indefinite ban on the harvesting of northern diamondback terrapins, which are captured and sold to oversea markets as food.
According to Ben Wurst, habitat program manager with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, exportation of these turtles from New Jersey and the U.S. has been on the rise in recent years.
"This administrative order is just and valid," he said. "We don't really even know the actual size of the population of terrapins in New Jersey, so why should we be harvesting them with no reporting, no permits, no nothing that's recorded?"
The state had partially closed the harvest season the past two years. A public hearing on the proposed shutdown of harvesting is scheduled for June 13 at the Stafford Township Municipal Building.