By CWF Staff
Freshwater turtles as a whole are in decline throughout Canada. Of the nine freshwater turtles found in Canada, only one subspecies is stable. The remaining species are designated to be at varying degrees of endangerment.
The threats are relatively well studied. Road mortality and habitat loss 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 contain ideal gravelly shoulders, but this places both the females and babies in a dangerous high traffic area.
The Saving Turtles At Risk Today (START) Muskoka Turtle Project works to conserve turtles in the Muskoka area through on the ground conservation, education, public engagement and outreach.
How can you help turtles this summer? We’ve got a few helpful hints:
- Think twice before you toss your gum wrapper. After all, healthy turtle populations start with a healthy habitat. When you litter, those pieces of plastic, paper and other material often end up in the lakes, rivers and streams that turtles call home.
- Pick up after others. Whether you make a habit of picking up litter when you see it or you participate in a local lake, river or community cleanup, ridding our shorelines of litter can do a world of good. The most common items you might find? Food wrappers, plastic bags, caps, cigarette butts and lids.
- Check for danger. If you find a turtle, look around. If they’re in a safe place – basking on a log, truding towards their nest or swimming in freshwater – just leave them be. Sometimes wanderers don’t need rescuing!
- Help a turtle cross the road. A common time for turtles to be on the move is between April and October. This is when turtles are looking for new nesting or hibernation places, water sources or mates. If you see a turtle on the road, and it is safe for you to help it, please 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! As with all wildlife, wear gloves or wash your hands after handling the turtle.
- Drive carefully. Females are particularly drawn to roads since they often nest on gravelly shoulders in the spring. It takes up to 18 years for a turtle to be old enough to reproduce, so the loss of turtles (especially females) means fewer young will be born. Since turtles don’t move quickly and make their move on roads during the day, they should be pretty easy to avoid. They tend to look a bit shiny in the distance so if you stay alert while driving you’ll have time to stop. The biggest help we can give to our endangered turtles is to make sure we slow down and avoid them.
- Leave fallen trees and branches in place along shorelines. Turtles use these as a platform for basking in the sun.
- Shop responsibly. Don’t buy real tortoiseshell barrettes, brushes, ornaments or jewelry.
- Leave it to the experts. If you find an injured turtle, you can take it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre for treatment. Saving one turtle can be a big help, since they are supposed to live for such a long time and lay eggs every year.