East Hampton Town Police Officer Grace Peterson watches a snapping turtle...

East Hampton Town Police Officer Grace Peterson watches a snapping turtle on Indian Mills Road on June 11, 2018. Credit: John Roca

Environmental officials are asking Long Islanders to keep an eye out for turtles ambling across busy roads during the nesting season of May and June.

Vehicle strikes are a “major cause of mortality” among turtles, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. The state put out the warning Sunday, on the eve of World Turtle Day.

"While a turtle’s shell provides protection from predators, it does not protect against being struck by vehicles while crossing roadways,” Seggos said in a statement. “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.”

He urged drivers to slow down, especially on roads near rivers and marshy areas.

According to the DEC, there are 11 species of terrestrial or land turtles and one brackish/saltwater species in the state. In addition, there are four species of sea turtles in New York.

Local experts said some well-meaning people, who find a turtle in the road and move it, may end up taking the turtle off its course and causing it more harm.

Female turtles leave their ponds to look for a place to dig a hole and lay their eggs, said Bobby Horvath, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with Long Island based-Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation. Sometimes they have to cross a road to get to and from their destinations.

“The rule of thumb is, if they are in a dangerous situation and you can safely lift the turtle without endangering yourself or the turtle, put it in a safe spot across the roadway in the direction where it was going,” he said. “It’s on a mission. If you put it back where it was, it will keep trying to cross.”

At the same time, people should not take turtles and move them far away because they might be trying to return to their home or pond, he said.

The DEC said people should not pick turtles up by their tails, because it could injure them. The agency said most turtles — other than snapping turtles — can be picked up safely by the sides of their shell.

Because snapping turtles have necks that can reach behind, people should pick them up by the rear of the shell near the tail using both hands. Officials also suggest sliding a car mat under the turtle to move it safely.

People who find an injured turtle or are looking for more information should contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. A list is available on the DEC website.

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