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Turtles at Risk

April 29, 2023

Eastern Snapping Turtle

By Guy Scott

Turtles are disappearing from Ontario. Since human activity is almost totally to blame for the turtle decline, we also hold the power to ensure their survival. With the arrival of spring, turtles emerging from winter hibernation trek across roads and highways in search of food and nesting sites. Unfortunately, turtles are no match for motor vehicles. Highway fatalities are devastating for turtle populations. In fact, road kill is the #1 reason that turtles are at risk in Ontario. With 7 of 8 species of Ontario turtles now listed as species as risk, there is much work to be done to prevent turtles from disappearing from our ecosystems.

Each turtle saved can make a difference. Less than 1% of eggs make it to adulthood, so every turtle’s ability to reproduce over many decades is critical. Thankfully there is plenty we can do to help make Ontario a safer place for turtles! If you find a turtle on the road, slow down, avoid hitting it and if it is safe to stop then carry or coax it with a stick in the direction it was travelling. Illegal collecting of Ontario’s native turtles, including Wood and Spotted Turtles, has decimated those populations in the wild. Never take a wild turtle home as a pet. Wild animals belong in the wild. Never release pet turtles.

Habitat destruction also plays a major role in the decline of turtles. As a waterfront home or cottage owner, there are many things you can do to improve turtle habitat on your property. The key is to keep the shoreline as natural as possible. If there have already been severe alterations of the natural shoreline you can rehabilitate the unnatural shorelines by removing things like retaining walls to make them suitable for turtles once again. In keeping with this simple ‘go natural’ philosophy, it is very important to plant native shrubs and trees (like dogwoods, shrub willows, meadowsweet, Joe-pye weed, and swamp milkweed to name a few!) and keep an unmown strip or buffer of this native vegetation 10-15 metres deep along your shoreline. Turtles love to bask on old logs or large rocks, so let fallen logs lie on the shore to become part of the natural habitat. When installing a dock, choose either a floating or cantilever model, and make sure to keep your boat speed less than 10 km/hr when you are close to shore. It is critical for both turtles and other aquatic inhabitants of lakes and ponds that the water in which they live be kept free from harmful chemicals. So avoid using fertilizers and pesticides, and have septic tanks inspected and pumped every 2-3 years if possible. The turtles will thank you for it, and in turn you will be helping ensure Ontario turtles will continue to call these lakes of ours home for years to come. If you do not own waterfront property have you ever considered creating a wetland in your own backyard? How about voluntarily cleaning up a wetland or shoreline?

Our Local Native Turtles:

Eastern Snapping Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle

Blanding’s Turtle

Eastern Musk Turtle

Northern Map Turtle

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