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Guardians warn drivers that turtles are on the move early

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The turtle guardians are warning drivers to be on the lookout for their shelled friends as warm weather is making them unusually active this month.

The Land Between charity founder Leora Berman said the turtle population is moving out of hibernation about three weeks early this year, with old and hatchling turtles leaving nests. She said with roadkill a persistent problem, turtles need all the help they can get. With the rare early movement, Berman said the charity is mobilizing its turtle guardian programming to help.

“We’re pretty concerned. Last year, we thought COVID would be a good thing for turtles because people aren’t driving as much. What we found was actually the opposite,” she said. “I’m concerned about emotional driving … Turtles are one of the most endangered species in the world.”

The non-profit environmental organization is moving to address the situation, launching a GoFundMe April 16 to install temporary silt fencing to help turtles at dangerous road crossings. It had raised more than $1,110 of a $4,000 goal as of April 19. Berman said although pandemic lockdown restrictions are challenging, the province considers wildlife research an essential service.

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She said the early awakening has compressed the Land Between’s schedules and forced them to move to fieldwork more quickly.

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“We are organizing road occupancy permits,” Berman said. “Trying to mobilize people in really high mortality zones.”

But the organization can draw in volunteers. A viral Facebook post about the County’s oldest turtle, Grace, garnered more than 870 shares. It helped prompt Gaye Botticella, who witnessed The Land Between rescuing Grace last year, to join the volunteer base April 17.

“It always upsets me when I see turtles on the road,” she said. “I just feel like I’m going to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem of saving our local turtles, because I love wildlife.”

Berman said she should be able to mobilize about 60 road researchers. But she added the organization needs more hands to handle all the different crossings – probably more than 100 people in the summer.

“The numbers are through the roof in turtle kills. That means we’re going to have local extinctions,” Berman said. “We’ve got about six (high-kill) sites we need people rotating throughout the day.”

Berman said the creatures are a vital part of the ecosystem. She said they are often misunderstood, and people need to know the importance of protecting them.

“We cannot survive without nature,” Berman said. “Their populations right now are very fragile. If we lose these species, our aquatic ecosystems will collapse.”

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