Feb 05 2011
There aren’t any turtles making the rounds in the Adirondack foothills on these winter days, but they are plenty who are already out and about in warmer climes. Of course, whatever the season, a turtle’s life is never easy. Their survival strategies, evolved over hundreds of millions of years, didn’t take speeding automobiles into account. It’s an unequal contest, with the turtles always coming off second-best. A case in point: the portion of US Highway 27 in northern Florida that cuts across an arm of Lake Jackson, creating an isolated impoundment known, logically enough, as Little Lake Jackson. These lakes lie at the center of a rich wetland, and they’re home to a great diversity of wildlife species, many of which cross back and forth between the two bodies of water—running the gauntlet of the busy roadway every time they do. Not surprisingly, then, this stretch of highway has a well-earned reputation as a killing zone for turtles, with over 2,000 being struck every year by speeding cars.
The terrible toll hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some big-hearted folks got together and founded the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance. Their aim? Creating a protected corridor for wildlife needing to cross between Lake Jackson and its smaller sibling. A big job? Sure. But there’s some good news: Florida cyclist Chris Balding reports that the Alliance’s efforts have paid off. The ecopassage is now complete. It’s an ingenious solution to a seemingly intractable problem, incorporating both a barrier-cum-deflector and a series of transit culverts under the Highway 27 roadbed. Chris checked it out a couple of weeks back, and he was impressed by what he saw. He wrote, “It looks as if it has been there forever, which, in an ironic way, I guess it has been.” In effect, the Alliance has restored an ancient wildlife right-of-way.
A small victory? Perhaps. But at a time when most news about wildlife is bad news, even small victories loom large. And a little good will goes a mighty long way. It has to. Few people take notice of the comings and goings of wild creatures. Chris is an exception. He’s been a friend to turtles since way back:
I have picked up turtles on many occasions. There is one little fella that makes a daily round trip from his home in the flowerbed to a small drainage creek behind our apartment building. One time his big brother tried to get crazy and venture across the parking lot on a broiling hot summer day. I knew he was headed for the pond out back (there’s a creek there, too), so I carried him to the grass so he wouldn’t fry his feet. In addition to the heat, the parking lot around our building has concrete curbs which are like prison walls for turtles. On my way to work or way home I sometimes have to stop the car and help one over the curb.
I can see how it could freak people out lifting a turtle the first few times. When I carried the “big brother,” he was none too happy about it and he let me know with a few hisses and a lot of flailing. Those little nails are sharp. But you just have to keep your cool and realize that they are just scared.
Chris has a sharp eye as well as a good heart. It took close observation to realize that the parking-lot curb was a death trap for turtles. Luckily, though, Chris has the patience to stop and offer help when help is needed. What about you? Would you like to know how to lift turtles to safety while staying safe yourself? If so, you can learn the right moves from an expert. Read “Help Turtles Cross Roads.” Then print out our “Quick Guide for Turtle Taxis” and put a copy in your car’s glove box (and your bike’s ‘bar bag, too). That way you’ll always have a handy reference. Better yet, print out a couple of dozen copies and give one to anyone else you know who has the good interests of wildlife at heart. Don’t let 215 million years of evolution go to waste. Turtles need all the help we can give them.
→ Want to know more about the Lake Jackson Ecopassage? You’ll find the whole story—and plenty of pictures—at the Alliance’s website.
→ Looking for more good news? You can see portraits of some of the many turtles saved by Outside readers in our Turtle Gallery. And be sure to send us photos of any turtles that you move out of harm’s way, too.