Although “turtle season” has wound down and Canadian turtles have gone into hibernation, work for Kate Siena and Dr. Sue Carstairs continues.
This winter there will be 191 turtles under care at the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (KTTC).
Peterborough’s KTTC opened in 2002 and since then has successfully treated and released thousands of turtles back into the wild.
Some gravid females lay their eggs while in care. These eggs are then incubated in the nursery along with eggs that have been extracted from female turtles that succumbed to their injuries. All of the successful hatchlings are released in the same area their mother was found.
The threats to turtles in urban environments are steep. Issues such as habitat loss, water contamination, accelerated predation from urbanized species such as raccoons and foxes, and road mortality are decimating turtle populations. Of all the threats, road mortality seems to be the most dominant in urban areas.
The problem is that most turtles hit on the road are females who are preparing to lay eggs. Less than 1 per cent of turtle eggs laid will make it to adulthood. When egg laying is compromised it puts the future of turtles in a tough spot. Turtles take quite awhile to mature. It can take eight to 25 years for a turtle to start producing eggs. While many species of wildlife are hit on the road, most species have young born from the previous year to contribute to the population. Many turtles that are hit have not yet been successful in producing young to replace themselves.
Habitat loss is also a major concern for turtles. As wetlands are being altered or lost, turtles have nowhere to go. Most species spend a majority of their lives in water, only coming onto land to nest.
What most people don’t understand is that turtles have a significant ecological role to play in the environment. Turtles help maintain the health of aquatic systems. They eat vegetation which helps minimize the amount of decomposing plant matter in our water systems. They also help keep insect populations in check. Turtles are an important food source to some species of fish, birds and mammals.
With the number of turtles declining and predation occurring more frequently in urban areas, populations are not coping well with the increase of negative impacts. Turtles have been around for more than 245 million years but now, due to human influence, most species of turtles are considered to be “species at risk.” Turtles are an important indicator species, which means if you find a turtle, the habitat it is living in is likely to be considerably healthy.
There are several ways in which we can minimize our impact on turtle populations. Preventing pets from disturbing nesting sites will give hatchlings a better chance at survival. More importantly by slowing down on roads with “turtle traffic” or helping turtles safely cross the road, injuries and mortality can be significantly reduced.
Education is the most important part of turtle sustainability and that is just what the KTTC is doing. Hosting outreach events and raising awareness is part of its mandate.
“With seven of the eight species of Ontario’s turtles now listed as “species at risk,” we are working to increase public awareness about the plight of Ontario’s turtles. Public education can reduce road mortalities while increasing conservation and stewardship efforts. We need a future where our grandchildren can enjoy the sight of a turtle basking in the sunshine”, says Kate Siena, volunteer co-ordinator of the KTTC.
Turtles are worth our time. It is time to give turtles a “brake.”
About the Author: Rochelle Archibald is a third-year Ecosystem Management student at Fleming College in Lindsay. She has been volunteering at the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre since September. Her guest column has been featured on mykawartha.com.