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Give turtles a ‘brake’

Thursday, July 4th, 2019


For my faithful readers, I was going to write a bit more about climate change, environmental turmoil and how we can cope, but that will have to wait for a bit. There is a more pressing and urgent matter I need to share. In Ontario, we have eight species of turtles, all of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act, federally, as being in trouble. It’s a gloomy time for turtles. Habitat loss, cars, climate and predators are all contributing, in their own way, to bring them to the brink. The two most common species of turtles in Ontario are the Midland Painted Turtle and the Snapping Turtle. Their populations are declining and they are listed as Special Concern under the Endangered Species Act, but at least there are enough of them left to give hope for their future. The Northern Map and Eastern Musk Turtles are also listed as Special Concern. These are the lowest levels of endangerment under this legislation. The Blanding’s, Spiny Softshell (only found in southwest Ontario), Spotted, and Wood Turtles are all listed as Endangered federally. This is the highest level of risk and these species are in real jeopardy of maintaining viable populations. One of the most devastating features of our landscape is the far-reaching network of roads. They are everywhere, and with roads come cars, fast and furious, so to speak. Now, one has to remember, turtles don’t bear live young but rather lay eggs in the soil. Soil temperature is key to their hatching and even affect their sex. It would be okay if they laid their eggs close to where they feed and live, but those habitats are not conducive to the survival of the eggs. Turtles need to go to areas of coarse soil where they can dig a shallow hole and lay their eggs. And guess what? The best places are along rail trails and roadways! It is not uncommon to see turtles crossing the road at this time of year on their way to a favoured egg-laying spot. Some look obvious, but many do not and can look like a rock or discarded debris on the roadway. Most drivers don’t even notice them until they run over them. This is rarely a deliberate act, but it is nonetheless devastating and often fatal to the turtles. So, what should you do? Well, when travelling the roads, in June and early July, keep an eye out for unusual objects in the roadway, it might be a turtle. If you see one and choose to get out of your car to help, first and foremost, think about your own safety, as cars kill people too as well you know. But you can coax the turtle to safety or otherwise lift it gently to get it off the road (using blanket/gloves for snappers). But make sure you urge it to go in the direction it was already heading, and never pick it up by the tail – that’s an ‘old wives’ tale and can cause considerable harm to turtles. The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC), in Peterborough, is one of several places where injured turtles can be taken for treatment and rehabilitation. I spoke with Dr. Sue Carstairs, Executive and Medical Director for OTCC. She told me, this year alone they have received over 900 turtles in need of help. Of these 90% were hurt by vehicles! Taking care of them is a daunting task, but Sue and her team face the challenge daily. The OTCC is a charitable foundation relying on public support and donations to survive. Drivers, caregivers, first responders and vets together help ensure the operation runs smoothly and as many turtles as possible are rehabilitated. Dr. Carstairs told me, many well-meaning good Samaritans might try to protect a nest from predators, but she warns this can be tricky! People are urged to contact the OTCC first and find out how best to help. Building enclosures around the nest must be approached with caution. Buy an enclosure from OTCC directly or view plans of how to make one properly on their website ( If you need more information, want to help out in any way, or wish to make a donation call the OTCC, at 705-741-5000. Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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