One of 10 surviving baby snapping turtles found by Bayport resident...

One of 10 surviving baby snapping turtles found by Bayport resident Karen Maloney at the Meadow Croft estate in Sayville. Credit: Karen Maloney

When photographer Karen Hill Maloney visited the Meadow Croft Estate in Sayville this week to take pictures of hatchling snapping turtles, she made a grisly discovery: about 100 of the baby reptiles were dead. 

Maloney, who lives in nearby Bayport, described what she saw as a “massacre” of baby turtles “smashed, flipped on their backs, [with] missing limbs and squashed” at the Suffolk County-owned estate. The grounds had been recently mowed, she said.

Now, animal welfare advocates have asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate the deaths and are calling upon Suffolk County to prohibit mowing at the estate from April to October — the turtle’s nesting season. 

Maloney, who has observed the Meadow Croft hatching season for 20 years, found 10 turtles that survived and carried them to a nearby creek that borders the property. She called the deaths “a terrible human error.” When she returned to the property on Tuesday, she said many of the bodies had been carried off by scavengers. 

“It was preventable, just some education for the people responsible for the mowing,” she said, adding that the eggs are the size of ping pong balls. “It was an honest accident.” 

The Meadow Croft Estate and grounds in Sayville on Wednesday.

The Meadow Croft Estate and grounds in Sayville on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The Department of Environmental Conservation, in response to an inquiry about the Meadow Croft incident, said it received a report about the destruction of a turtle nest due to mowing and is coordinating with the county to investigate, a spokesperson said. 

In a statement to Newsday, the Suffolk County Department of Parks said it was working with experts to determine any adjustments to “prevent something like this from happening in the future.” 

“Suffolk cares deeply about all wildlife living on county property and we do our best to protect all species at all times,” the county said. 

Humane Long Island, an animal advocacy group, said the group wants the county to rope off the area during nesting season. “Certainly the county should have known about these nests, and if they didn't, we are ensuring they know now,” said Humane Long Island president John Di Leonardo, adding that the female turtles lay eggs in the same place each year. 

Snapping turtles are a keystone species, which means they are essential for the environment. Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons founder Karen Testa called them “nature’s clean-up crew” because they eat dead fish and animals, which keeps rivers clean. The snapping turtle was designated as the state reptile for New York in 2006.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that every species of animal … that they’re very important to our ecosystem and have as much of a right to live as we do,” Di Leonardo said. “We’re urging Suffolk County to set a good example of that.”

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