Weighing a snapping turtle – summer, 2010

Almost a decade ago, while studying at Fleming College, one of my classmates talked a lot about an organization she volunteered for that focused on the rehabilitation of native turtles. The organization was then called Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre and had recently moved to a location on Erskine Avenue in Peterborough. As I have always been delighted by turtles, it wasn’t long before volunteer shifts cleaning out the turtle tanks soon became a part of my weekly schedule.  A lot was changing for the organization at this time and it was really exciting to see how rapidly things began to grow. During one of my summers, I worked as the Turtle Rehabilitation Coordinator, which allowed me to work more closely with Dr. Sue Carstairs, the Executive and Medical Director.

We often had conversations about how great it would be to carry out studies on the rehabilitated turtles after they were released. But at that time, we had our hands full with training volunteers and making sure all the turtles were fed and had clean tanks.

Fast forward eight years and an email I had sent requesting a reference from Dr. Carstairs led to the opportunity to come and work as a field technician for a month. Having not lived in Ontario for many years at this point, I hadn’t seen the new location of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre. (The name was also brand new to me!) Seeing the permanent enclosures for the outreach turtles, the tanks that were actually plumbed-in and an entire room dedicated to hatchlings really solidified for me just how far the OTCC had come. Heading out into wetlands to track endangered Blanding’s turtles felt like a dream come true, not just for me, but also the organization I had started volunteering for 10 years ago.

Just another day in the office

Tracking turtles through wetland is a new adventure every day and can be a lot of work. Even a tagged turtle can be hard to find. Some days, your progress is incredibly slow as you wade around in waist-deep water, trying to spot a turtle in an environment in which it is perfectly camouflaged.  This same environment is one that humans are really NOT well suited for. (Which becomes painfully obvious when it seems like the turtle always manages to keep ahead of you.) Then there is that inevitable day when your foot sinks down just enough that your hip-waders fill with water, giving you the most extreme possible version of a soaker. Most days though, you get to see more Blanding’s turtles than most people will see in their lifetime. At the end of the day, the greatest reward of this job for me was being able to see these turtles in their native habitat and realizing all the efforts towards rehabilitation and protection are absolutely worth it.

— Charity Justrabo —