Reducing Traffic Mortality
Traffic mortality is a significant threat to many species of turtles. While closing roads
adjacent to major wetlands may be the most desirable option from an environmental
perspective it is unlikely to occur in many locations. Hence trying to reduce mortality is
The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network (CARCNET) undertook a media
campaign in the spring of 2002 to try and educate drivers about turtles on roads. Many
people would swerve recklessly to avoid hitting a dog or cat but think nothing of running
over just a reptile. Our goal was to attempt to raise the profile of turtles and
particularly to emphasize that many of the turtles people see on the road are females
looking for a place to nest. This makes running over a turtle a motherhood issue - that's
not just a turtle it's a mommy turtle.
A brief news article was written and a simple black and white graphic prepared. The text
and graphic were emailed to over 100 newspapers in the province of Ontario - the province
with the greatest diversity of turtle species and the largest human population. It is
unclear how many papers actually ran the material, but we know at least a few did. In
addition, reporters from some newspapers called for more information so they could write a
We encourage others to make use of this material. The text of our press release and the
graphic are available below. Feel free to edit the text to fit your own particular
geographic area. We are grateful for financial support for this project from the Mountain
Equipment Co-op Environment Fund.
Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side.
It may seem silly, but it's the truth. Right now many turtles are moving from one marsh
to another, to find food, locate a mate or to lay eggs. Historically this was no problem,
but today turtles often must cross busy roads on their wanderings. The result is that
hundreds maybe even thousands of turtles are killed every year.
"Traffic mortality is a serious issue for turtles," says Carolyn Seburn of the Canadian
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network. Ronald Brooks, a professor of biology at the
University of Guelph agrees. "My view is that these animals are not going to survive if we
don't prevent the roadkill problem."
There are many reasons why turtles are particularly vulnerable to traffic mortality.
First of all, many of the turtles seen trying to cross roads are females looking for places
to lay their eggs. Because turtles can live for decades, killing pregnant females not only
removes reproductive adults from the population but it also removes all their potential
future offspring. In addition, surviving turtles can't lay extra eggs to compensate for
increased mortality, so once a population starts to decline it is difficult to reverse the
What can drivers do? "It's important to watch the road carefully when you're driving,"
says Seburn, "particularly where the road comes near to wetlands and rivers. Remember that
turtles don't move very quickly and their first response to danger is to pull into their
shells. Turtles don't understand about cars, but drivers can act responsibly and avoid
hitting a turtle."
In many locations in Ontario drivers can also watch for turtle crossing signs. These
signs depicting a stylized turtle are the work of Turtle S.H.E.L.L. (Safety, Habitat,
Education, Long Life), a non-profit group dedicated to the conservation of turtles. The
signs have been posted at known crossing areas and they alert drivers that turtles may be
crossing the road.
The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network is a charitable organization
dedication to ensuring the survival of Canada's native amphibians and reptiles. Recently it
launched a major campaign to help reduce traffic mortality in turtles. The Canadian
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network gratefully acknowledges the financial support of
the Mountain Equipment Co-op Environment Fund in accomplishing its goals. To find out more
about turtles and the threats they face visit our website at