Lessons from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre

(submitted by Kate Hayday)
Two years ago, while volunteering for Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC), I took the opportunity to learn more about turtles at the Turtle Trauma Workshop run by Dr. Sue Carstairs and the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre. What follows are a few highlights of turtle info from that day, mixed with a bit of my personal experience working with turtles as a volunteer at SPWC.
painted turtle
Why did the turtle cross the road? Because roads are everywhere. The largest proportion of Canada’s turtles are in southern Ontario, which unfortunately perfectly aligns with the highest density of roadways in the province – you can’t travel more than 1.5km in southern Ontario without encountering a road. These roads highly fragment the landscape and ecosystems, and turtles must cross them in order to function.
Roads are second only to habitat loss as the reason turtle species are at risk in North America. Turtles in Ontario do not begin breeding until they are 8-25 years old, and they cannot sustain the losses of so many breeding-age adults being hit by cars. That is a lot of years of successfully, slowly, crossing roads before turtles even begin to breed.
8 species, 8 warnings: Ontario has 8 species of turtle: wood, spotted, blanding’s, spiny softshell, musk, map, snapping and painted. And all, all, are listed either provincially or federally as at risk, ranging from Special Concern, Threatened or Endangered.
Is it hopeless? Nope! Turtles populations have proven to benefit from assistive interventions by humans.
Studies have shown that for turtles, rehabilitation has a population level effect, and interventions can have a substantial impact.
Egg-cellent work: As part of the OTCC’s population rehabilitation work, if an injured turtle was a pregnant female (and about 1/2 of female turtles that are hit by cars are carrying eggs) the OTCC — as well as other wildlife rescue centres, like SPWC in Napanee — can and will remove, incubate, and hatch the eggs. The resulting hatchling turtles will be safely returned to the wild, giving their species that much more opportunity for survival. Other deceased turtles are also sometimes accepted by the OTCC for data collection.
The OTCC had over 1400 admissions in 2019, and over 1000 in 2020, even with Covid-19 restrictions. In 2018 alone, the OTCC released 2100 turtles back to the wild, and incubated 4000 eggs. If you can support the OTCC or SPWC in any way – financially, with donations of items on their wish lists, or by becoming a member of their volunteer driver teams, I highly recommend doing so.

What can we do?

• when it’s safe to do so, help turtles across the road — always in the direction it was already travelling. Learn how you can safely move even a large snapping turtle in this video from Adopt-a-Pond: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgd_B6iKPxU
• follow OTCC and SPWC on social media, to learn so much more about how amazing turtles are;
• submit sightings of turtles and turtle nests with the Ontario Turtle Tally through the Adopt-a-Pond app: https://report.adoptapond.ca/;
• install proper nest protectors if you find a turtle nest on your property: https://ontarioturtle.ca/get-involved/turtle-nests-and-nest-protection/;
• bring injured turtles to the OTCC, even if you think they’re dead or dying.;
• share information about the role of turtles in our ecosystems, the importance of wetlands to a healthy water supply, and your love of turtles!
And if you find any turtle in trouble and you need guidance on what to do, contact the OTCC and they will be happy to help you help turtles. Learn more at https://ontarioturtle.ca and become that much more turtle-y awesome! OTCC Turtle Hotline: 705-741-5000

Lone Pine Land Trust

Lone Pine Land Trust is a non-profit charity based in Northumberland County.