A coalition of local conservation and animal welfare organizations dubbed “Team Turtle” has erected several signs, written in both English and Spanish, asking people to stop feeding snapping turtles as part of an effort to protect the turtles and reduce litter.
It has long been a tradition for children to “jig” for snapping turtles at Long Pond, tying pieces of chicken to fishing line and throwing it into the water for the turtles to eat. But Team Turtle worries that this practice harms the turtles and has compared it to animal torture.
“A lot of people just haven’t thought this through,” said Sarah Bois, the Linda Loring Nature Foundation’s Director of Research and Education and a key member of Team Turtle. She stressed that while the people feeding the turtles probably have no intent to harm them, their actions are dangerous and disrupt evolutionarily honed natural rhythms.
As a result of constant jigging, snapping turtles in Long Pond, where two of the signs were erected, have become highly active during the day and have begun to congregate in large groups. Usually, snapping turtles are nocturnal and territorial, avoiding other members of their species.
Human interference doesn’t just disrupt natural cycles and the turtles’ feeding habits—it also makes snapping turtles more aggressive and puts them at a greater risk of disease.
“When they are brought into large numbers they aren’t usually in, there’s disease transmission,” Bois said, noting that this is a pattern in the natural world. When usually solitary animals congregate in large groups, pathogens can spread rapidly that otherwise might remain suppressed.
In addition, the fishing line used for jigging can cut and choke snapping turtles. Many turtles have scarring on their limbs, heads, and necks from fishing lines, and others have been found entangled in line or choked to death by it.
Bois described finding turtles with bones stuck in their throat and rotting chicken hanging from lines caught in their mouths. Jigging materials are also often left behind as litter.
Bois also stressed that there are alternatives for those who want to interact with snapping turtles.
“You can just walk out onto a dock, and the turtles will come, and you can see them,” Bois said. But she added that it’s also okay if people aren’t able to interact with snapping turtles as much. “The wildlife shouldn’t be just for our viewing enjoyment,” she said. “They’re part of the ecosystem and should remain as such.”
Team Turtle is also working on creating new programming for people interested in snapping turtles, set to debut next summer.
“We were thinking of creating some curriculum or having people sporadically at the dock who would talk about the wonders of snapping turtles,” Bois said.
Bois acknowledged that it is legal to hunt snapping turtles for food during snapping turtle season, though this requires a permit. However, hunting comprises a small fraction of annual human interference with the snapping turtle population.
In addition to the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Team Turtle contains representatives from the Nantucket Island Safe Harbor for Animals, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, and the Maria Mitchell Association.