New signs popped up on the sides of roads around East Hampton this month alerting drivers to be on the lookout for baby turtles crossing roadways as they hatch from their buried eggs and begin a plodding trek to nearby waterbodies.
In the weeks of late summer, the offspring of four species of local turtles will be hatching, and many of them will have to scramble across local roads between the dirt-nests in which they were incubated and the local ponds, creeks and harbors they will grow up in.
Snapping turtles, painted turtles, spotted turtles, diamondback terrapins and box turtles are all spawning now. All of the local species, other than box turtles, spend their lives in the water but lay their eggs in the soil of upland woods.
That millennia-old habit, however, has put them in direct conflict with human development as roadways have been laid down directly through traditional turtle migration routes.
“If it rains at night and the sun comes out the next day, you can almost set your watch that you’ll see turtles cross the roads as soon as you see some sunshine,” East Hampton Town Trustee James Grimes said. “We’re fortunate that the diamond back terrapin they don’t have to cross roads. But snapping turtles, they are frequently crossing roads.”
Cemetery Road in Hither Woods, Napeague Meadow Road in Devon and Montauk Highway, where it passes through the state park, are all places where turtles are frequently in conflict with motorists when the mothers head to nesting sites in early summer and again in late summer when their babies hatch and head for water.
In some upstate towns, volunteers serve as in-person crossing guards to halt traffic at busy turtle-crossing points to protect hatchlings. In the absence of that locally, the new signs that were created in partnership between the Trustees, the town Highway Department and the South Fork Natural History Museum will alert drivers to keep a sharp eye out, at the very least.
“Sadly, you don’t even really see it all that much anymore, the big wave of babies crossing a road,” Mr. Grimes said. “I think, unfortunately, that means the population has just been ground down over the years and we don’t have as many.”