Couple champions the cause of turtles

The next time you’re cruising down this local stretch of road, you might want to be extra vigilant. Turtles in the area are being run over in alarming numbers. Durhamite Tony DeSimone and his fiancé, Katrina Ruggiero, find 15 to 20 dead turtles close to their house every year, at the intersection of Parmelee Hill Road and Route 17.

“There’s a big wetland there,” DeSimone said, “and they’re being run over during the months of April through October, when they are out and about and not in hibernation at the bottom of a pond. And there’s a culvert (a pipe that conveys water under a road) that goes under Route 17 and discharges into a ditch on Parmelee Hill Road. When the turtles get out of the ditch, they have to cross the road to lay their eggs in the fields on the other side of the road. And the cars just fly by.”

They plan on going to the August meeting of the town’s Conservation Committee, to ask for a sign that states something to the effect of “Slow, Endangered Turtles,” and signs asking for a reduction in speed, to 25 miles per hour. “We want public awareness of these endangered species,” Ruggiero said. “We want posters at the town hall, the library, the schools.”

DeSimone notified the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection when he recently found a dead spotted turtle close to his home, and now the area is listed as a conservation area of concern. This means that no one can build on the land if it is determined to be a prime habitat for this species.

Connecticut has 12 species of turtles, 10 of which are endangered. (The snapper and Eastern painted are not endangered.) Their normal life span is about 20 years, but many don’t make it. In addition to cars, predators pose a high risk. Also, people take them home and out of their natural habitat, thus depriving them of the opportunity to breed.

“We’ve dissected the wetlands in Durham so that they’re not touching each other anymore,” DeSimone said. “So the turtles travel between the wetlands looking for mates and food, and they get hit by cars. The spotted turtle and the box turtle have been hit really hard.”

One Eastern painted turtle, however, is off to a good start. The couple found her under their deck, in May of last year. “She was the size of a quarter,” DeSimone said. “In late spring the female digs down about six inches and lays her eggs, then she buries them. With this species, the eggs hatch in October and stay in their underground nest until the spring. This one had just come out, and she must have been confused. She was heading toward the house instead of going to the brook behind our house. The brook floods, so the mother, not wanting her young to drown, had laid her eggs under the deck.”

“We haven’t named her,” Ruggiero said, “because we don’t want to get attached. We just call her Turtle. She’s a year old now, and when she’s four years old, we’ll release her into the wild. We’re trying to decide on the safest place. Probably not the brook behind us, because of all the road kills in the area.”

DeSimone notified the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection when he recently found a dead spotted turtle close to his home, and now the area is listed as a conservation area of concern. This means that no one can build on the land if it is determined to be a prime habitat for this species.

Others towns have picked up the banner as well. A tunnel has been built under Route 7 in New Milford, at a cost of over $1 million, so that the area’s 22 box turtles do not have to cross the highway. Tracking by GPS has shown that they are using the tunnel.

Meanwhile, DeSimone and Ruggiero keep moving turtles out of the road and to safety, and when they find babies, they raise them to adults and then release them.

“I’d love to get three female box turtles and one male, and start a conservation center, then release them into the wild. Maybe someday. A friend and I are talking about it. I want turtles to be here for my grandchildren,” DeSimone said.

His fiancé said it all. “Watch out for turtles!”



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