Ontario’s turtle populations are in decline and many are considered Species at Risk. The loss of wetland habitat across Southern Ontario has reduced suitable nesting habitat for turtles. Increased roads impact female turtles when they travel from their resident wetland to nest, often laying their eggs in the gravel of road shoulders.
After they lay the eggs and leave the nest, the eggs are predated which is a nice way of saying, they are eaten. It is mostly skunks, racoons and foxes that do the damage and this greatly affects the reproduction rates for turtles in our ecosystem. And if that is not enough to make you put your head in your shell, those baby turtles hatch and have to cross the same roads and pathways as their mother. They are also small enough to make a perfect snack for crows and gulls that might be flying by.
So what can you do? Keep your eyes on the roads, pathways and maybe even your backyard if you happen to live adjacent to a creek or have a wetland or pond on your property. September is the time the young turtles emerge from their nest and follow in their mother’s foot steps.
Baby turtles, even snapping turtles, can be easily handled with a garden glove and placed in a container like a pail or bucket and transported to its home wetland. How do you know where their home wetland is? Just remember what direction the turtle is heading. It could be between 100 and 1,000 metres away from the nesting site.
Some year’s the babies hatch but remain in the nest until spring, so don’t get anxious if you know of a nest and don’t see anything emerging this fall. Spring is just around the corner and the turtles will make their trek then. They have enough food and energy in their bodies to allow them to hibernate over the winter months.
A component of Central Lake Ontario Conservation's (CLOCA's) Integrated Watershed Monitoring Program includes collecting data on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, wildlife, coastal wetlands and water quality in creeks and groundwater. CLOCA utilizes turtle monitoring boxes (see picture) which are designed specifically to support our Durham Region Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program. The boxes will improve our understanding of turtle populations in the coastal wetlands located along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
Of Ontario’s eight native turtle species, all are considered Species At Risk. CLOCA’s focus is primarily on two of the more common turtle species, Midland Painted and Snapping Turtles, but we will be looking for the less common Blanding’s and Map Turtles as well.
The boxes were installed in local wetlands and act as a basking site for turtles with an opening that leads the turtle into an underwater enclosure once they have warmed themselves. Here, they are free to swim and feed, until the daily box checks by monitoring staff. Once the turtles are marked and assessed, they are released. The marking program will help when turtles are recaptured in future monitoring efforts and also when the turtles are observed naturally using their wetland and adjacent upland habitat.
Upon the completion of monitoring efforts each year, the nets will be removed, and the boxes will continue to offer basking sites. Based on the results of data collected we look to future restoration activities and habitat enhancements to ensure long-term survival of turtle populations in local wetlands.
Everyone can do their part to help turtles by watching for them when driving or assisting them if they are trying to cross a road or trail. Always help them travel in the direction they are heading, even if the wetland is behind them. Females often leave their home wetland in June and travel up to a kilometre away to lay their eggs, often unfortunately on road shoulders. CLOCA offers nesting protection structures and if you happen to find an injured turtle, check out the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre website at https://ontarioturtle.ca for information about their rehabilitation programs.