Katarina Monnes with a turtle while in Florida.
Increasing respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures, World Turtle Day is coming to Chelmsford, thanks to one 11-year-old’s determination to bring awareness to the gentle animals facing extinction.
Parker Middle School fifth-grader Katarina Monnes will host a turtle awareness and children’s activities program at the Chelmsford Library on Thursday, May 23, from 3:30 to 5 p.m., as a part of her Girl Scouts Bronze Award project.
“They are interesting creatures. They have been around since before dinosaurs and have many unique characteristics. Did you know turtles never age? Some scientists are studying that. They can live to be over 100 years old, and only die from injury or disease, not old age,” said Monnes, who has raised funds for several national turtle foundations.
The turtle hurtle
Monnes is now making it her mission to save local turtles, of which at least three of the six species are listed as threatened or endangered. In Chelmsford, there are box turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, bog turtles, red-eared slider turtles and wood turtles. The wood, box and bog turtles are endangered species.
“I hope people learn how to help, what we’re doing wrong to hurt the turtles, how we can stop that and more ways we can bring up the number of turtles,” said Monnes, who participated in a Junior Vet program at the Loggerhead Marine Rescue Center in Juno Beach, Fla. last year.
Since embarking on her Bronze Award project, Monnes met with Alexxia Bell, a founder of the Turtle Rescue League, to gain information about the species and ways to help.
With the help of her Girl Scout Troop 66349, Monnes will paint 10 Turtle Crossing signs for the Turtle Rescue League, using wood donated by the Chelmsford Lumber Company. Some turtle awareness signs near wetlands around town were stolen. Monnes plans to post more, especially on Smith Street, which abuts a large wetland complex associated with River Meadow Brook. Monnes’ turtle sign paint and supply was donated by Chelmsford’s Sherwin Williams store.
To get to the other side
“Turtles are endangered because of development (loss of habitat), pollution and being hit by cars on roads and injured by mowers,” said Monnes, who encourages other to post signs where turtles are being killed or injured.
Monnes and her troop will also aid the Chelmsford Conservation Commission by cleaning up local turtle nesting areas, including Crooked Spring Pond at the end of the month. In addition, they’ll conduct turtle spotting over the summer to check for injured or dead turtles.
“Be careful when mowing and avoid mowing fields in June and August, take shorter showers and restrict lawn watering (to conserve water and avoid draining our ponds), recycle and cover your trash and recycling bin,” Monnes said.
On Thursday, Monnes, with the help of Cori Rose of CCC, will provide a poster identifying heavy turtle crossings streets in town and where people need to be especially cautious during May and June, which is turtle hatching season.
“In the spring, usually between May and June, the mature female turtles leaves the wetlands, streams and woods to travel to nesting sites to deposit their eggs. This is when single adults are likely to be lost to roadway mortality,” said Rose, adding in August and September after hatching from the nest, the hatchling turtles start making their treacherous trip back to their natural habitats where they will spend most of their life.
“If people can be vigilant and slow down in known crossing or nesting areas, especially at dusk and dawn after a day of rain in May and June, individual mortality and population-level impact could be reduced,” she said.
Monnes will create flyers for neighborhood distribution informing others to watch out for turtles and encourage people to help the turtles they find on the roads.
According to Rose, if a turtle is in the road, try to protect it while it crosses, if it is safe to do so. If a turtle needs assistance to cross a road, always take it across the road in the direction it was heading. Try to minimize handling as much as possible. Hatchlings can be relocated by bucket.
“Not only can adults learn about turtles, but even kids. I’m hoping kids will learn not to take them home for pets and learn about how you can help. I’m hoping to get at least 20 people,” said Monnes, explaining turtles shouldn’t be sold in pet stores.
For more information or how to help turtles, visit turtlerescueleague.com. For lists of turtles in Mass. and to sign up to be a “turtle spotter” for the Turtle Atlas, visit turtleconservationproject.org
Turtles in the road
1. The intersection of Riverneck Road, Billerica Road (Route 129) and Turnpike Road
2. Concord Road and Boston Road (Route 4) in the vicinity of Harvey Road
3. Boston Road in the vicinity of Wildes Road and Roberts Street
4. Brick Kiln Road near Alpine Street and UPS Road
5. Riverneck Road near Canal Street and between Route 3 and the Lowell Connector
6. Smith Street, near Steadman Street
7. Near the intersection of Main Street and School Street
8. Littleton Road between Tadmuck Road and Garrison Road
9. Acton Road between Greenwood Road and Hart Road
10. Littleton Road (Route 110) between Enterprise Bank and Town Center
To monitor turtle crossings on your own with the help of online database reporting or to work with someone from the Conservation Commission, call 978-250-5248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org