Here’s how you can help Ontario’s threatened turtles

All eight of Ontario turtle species are now considered at risk

In April 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed the Midland Painted Turtle as a species of "special concern" under the federal Species At Risk Act. Under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, seven additional species of turtles are listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern, with an eigth species listed as extirpated (extinct in Ontario). (Photo: Appaloosa CC BY-NC 2.0)
In April 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed the Midland Painted Turtle as a species of "special concern" under the federal Species At Risk Act. Under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, seven additional species of turtles are listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern, with an eigth species listed as extirpated (extinct in Ontario). (Photo: Appaloosa CC BY-NC 2.0)

While spending time by the lake or river this summer, you may see turtles basking in the sun along rocks or logs. Hopefully, you are fortunate enough to see one — as of this spring, all eight of Ontario’s turtle species are considered at risk due to natural and human-caused factors.

Prior to April of this year, the Midland Painted Turtle was not considered at risk, but recently the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) decided that the painted turtle should also be listed as at risk and be protected under the federal Species At Risk Act.

The Midland Painted Turtle’s upper shell is olive to black, and usually measures 12 to 14 centimetres long. This turtle can be identified apart from other Ontario species due to its unique red or orange markings around the edges of its shell, and red and yellow stripes on its head and neck.

The Midland Painted Turtle, so named due to the unique red or orange markings around the edges of its shell and red and yellow stripes on its head and neck, was recently listed as a species of "special concern" under the federal Species At Risk Act. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The Midland Painted Turtle, so named due to the unique red or orange markings around the edges of its shell and red and yellow stripes on its head and neck, was recently listed as a species of “special concern” under the federal Species At Risk Act. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Although we may not think of turtles every day, they play an important role in the natural environment. According to Anne-Christine Auge, a Trent University PhD student who is studying the Blanding’s Turtle, they are an indicator species, which means they can reflect the health of the ecosystems in which they live

“If turtles aren’t doing so well, there might be something wrong in that habitat or environment, [such as a high concentration] of fertilizers or other toxins. As part of the food web, turtles feed on fish and small invertebrates [such as crayfish, leeches, and beetles]. This helps to keep those invertebrate populations in check.”

Turtle eggs and young also provide food for other animals, and some turtle species help spread plant seeds within wetlands. Furthermore, turtles have been around for hundreds of millions of years — since the age of the dinosaurs!

There are a number of factors that are threatening the survival of Ontario turtles, some of which are natural, and some of which are caused by human activities.

Raccoons and skunks eat many turtle eggs, so very few young turtles make it to adulthood. Then, it takes 15 to 20 years before a turtle reaches maturity and is able to produce eggs.

From May to October every year, turtles are on the move to find mates and lay their eggs. Young turtles are also emerging from their nests to find nearby waterways to make their home. Unfortunately, many turtles are killed or injured every year when trying to cross roads.

Additionally, the wetlands that make good turtle habitat are often fragmented to make way for roads, or drained and filled to make way for subdivisions.

A young snapping turtle was discovered at GreenUP Ecology Park by children attending the Earth Adventures summer day camp. (Photo: Danica Jarvas / GreenUP)
A young snapping turtle was discovered at GreenUP Ecology Park by children attending the Earth Adventures summer day camp. (Photo: Danica Jarvas / GreenUP)

Although these human activities are threatening turtle survival, we humans can play an important role in protecting turtles. Here is how you can help:


On the road

When driving along roads between May and October, watch out for turtles trying to cross.

If it is safe to do so, stop the car and gently help the turtle across.

 

If you find an injured turtle

Report it immediately to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTTC) by calling 705-741-5000.

 

If you find turtle eggs

Leave them where you found them. Special permitting is required to relocate turtle eggs, so make sure to contact the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for further information.

Moving the eggs can actually harm the growing babies, so leave them be!

 

On the water

Turtles can be injured or killed by boat propellers. Canoeing and kayaking are lower-impact choices that reduce the chances of injuring turtles.

If you are motor boating on the water, slow down or turn off your propeller in shallow areas along shorelines where turtles often congregate. Only boat along marked channels and watch out for turtles in the water.

 

While outdoors

Be a responsible paddler, hiker, and camper by taking your equipment and garbage home with you.

When left in the wilderness, plastic water bottles, granola bar wrapping, fishing lines, and fish hooks can hurt, trap, or strangle wildlife, including turtles.

 

When you see a turtle

Report it to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Natural Heritage Information Centre at www.ontario.ca/page/report-rare-species-animals-and-plants and to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas at ontarionature.org/programs/citizen-science/reptile-amphibian-atlas/g.

This leads to a better understanding of these animals throughout the province. These sites also feature great resources for identifying the different species.

 

Volunteer

Consider becoming a Turtle Taxi for the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre! This means occasionally picking up injured turtles to bring to OTTC and releasing rehabilitated turtles back into the environment.

 

Attendees of the GreenUp Ecology Park BioBlitz in June watch a large snapping turtle swimming in the water of Meade Creek between Beavermead campground and Ecology Park. Snapping turtles are the largest species of turtle in Ontario, take nearly 20 years to reach maturity, and can live to be more than 70 years old. (Photo: Karen Halley / GreenUP)
Attendees of the GreenUp Ecology Park BioBlitz in June watch a large snapping turtle swimming in the water of Meade Creek between Beavermead campground and Ecology Park. Snapping turtles are the largest species of turtle in Ontario, take nearly 20 years to reach maturity, and can live to be more than 70 years old. (Photo: Karen Halley / GreenUP)

For the health of Ontario’s natural environment, it is important that we all take steps to ensure that the turtles that have been around since the age of the dinosaurs can survive into the future.

If you want to learn more about Ontario turtles, the Toronto Zoo has a great collection of resources at www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond/turtleresources.asp.

For tips on how to safely move turtles across roads, how to help and handle an injured turtle, or to find out more about how to get involved, visit the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre website at www.ontarioturtle.ca.

For more information about responsible outdoor recreation, visit www.leavenotrace.ca.

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