Freshwater turtles are one of the most endangered groups of animals in Canada. Seven of the eight species found in Canada are listed as species at risk.
The threats are relatively well known. Road mortality, habitat loss, nest predation and poaching for the pet trade are having the largest impact on turtle populations in general. Turtles often have to cross roads to find suitable nesting sites, which puts females at risk of being struck by vehicles. These females should lay eggs for decades to produce the next generation of turtles, and if they are killed, the next generation will be reduced or even eliminated. The roadsides themselves often prove to be a nesting site of choice since they often contain gravelly shoulders, but this places both the females and young in a dangerous high traffic area.
Habitat can be lost through normal changes in an aging ecosystem, but more often wetlands are lost to urban expansion, cultivation and road construction.
What We're Doing
The Canadian Wildlife Federation has been working with regional partners, community groups, lake associations and individuals to reduce risks to turtles. We continue to carry out on the ground surveys to document at risk turtle locations and their habitat. We have also undertaken an analysis of hotspots where turtles are more susceptible to being hit on the road. Finally, we continue to work with partners to outfit turtles with radio transmitters to track movement, habitat use, nesting sites and overwintering sites.
How to Help a Turtle Across The Road
Why did the turtle cross the road? Some turtles cross the road to get from one wetland to another. During June, many adult female turtles cross roads looking for places to lay their eggs. Simple guidelines for moving turtles across the road:
- Always ensure your own safety. On many roads, with cars going in both directions, it can be dangerous to cross the road on foot.
- Aside from Snapping Turtles, most turtle species can be carefully picked up with two hands and moved across the road.
- When you pick up a turtle, it may scratch you with its claws or pee on you. Make sure you have a good grip on the shell and don’t drop the turtle.
- Always move turtles across the road in the direction they are moving – the turtle knows where it wants to go.
- Moving Snapping Turtles is more challenging as they will bite. Never put your hands anywhere near a Snapping Turtle’s head as you may be bitten. Don’t pick up a Snapping Turtle by the tail, as this can damage its spine. Snapping Turtles can be moved using a shovel if one is handy, but be careful the turtle does not fall or climb off the shovel. Another method is to get the Snapping Turtle to bite onto a long stick or branch and drag it across the road .
WHEN TO RESCUE A TURTLE:It is important to know when a turtle needs help and when it does not.
Sometimes yard or excavation work can uncover a nest of turtle eggs, such as in a compost pile. If you expose eggs, cover them back up with the nesting material. If the eggs are moved, they may not survive.
Most turtle hatchlings emerge from nests in late summer or early fall and head for water. Hatchlings are about the size of a loonie and are completely independent. If you find an uninjured hatchling, let it be, as it will find its way to the closest water body.
If you find an uninjured turtle on the road, you can help it across by moving it in the direction it is headed. Link to: How to Help a Turtle Across The Road
How to tell if a turtle needs rescuing:
- It is unresponsive (it can be hard to determine if a turtle has died so err on the side of caution)
- It has head or limb injuries, or cracks to its shell
- It is found upside down and is unable to right itself, which may indicate dehydration and overheating
How You Can Help
Let us know if you see a turtle:
- In the Muskoka/Lake Simcoe Region: Call the START Hotline 705-955-4284
- Across Canada: Report it via the CWF project on iNaturalist.ca
Public engagement and awareness is essential in turtle conservation.
Talk to your neighbours and the local community to bolster support for turtle conservation which can lead to direct actions to safeguard turtles.
You can be a turtle ambassador and let your councilors know about areas of high turtle mortality so fencing and/or a turtle crossing sign can be installed.
Encourage the rest of your community to do the same.
Drive safely and slow down when approaching areas where wetlands are close to the road.
This will give you enough time to safely swerve around a turtle.
If you find turtles in a safe place, leave them there.
But if they’re not in a safe place, like on the road, please give them a helping hand. Just make sure to move it across in the direction it was going. Don’t take it back to the water — it may be going to lay eggs somewhere else!
Healthy turtle populations start with a healthy habitat.
Help improve turtle habitat by participating in local lake, river or community cleanups. Keep wetlands intact on your property and tell your councilors and neighbours that they are an important feature in your municipality.
If you've seen a turtle nesting on your property, mark the nest so that you don’t accidentally walk on it or dig it up later in the summer.
This way you can also keep an eye out for predators and ward them off. You could even go one step further and create a nest site consisting of a pile of gravel or sand.
Leave fallen trees and branches in place along shorelines.
Turtles use these as a platform for basking in the sun. If there aren’t any, you could even place some logs to give them a spot to bask.
Don’t buy real tortoiseshell barrettes, brushes, ornaments or jewelry.
Support CWF and its turtle and habitat projects.