The last few months I have spent at the OTCC have been nothing but exciting. I have been lucky enough through an internship course at Trent University to be an education and outreach liaison at the OTCC. I helped with reaching people far and wide who want to know more about Ontario’s native turtles.
Turtles are amazing animals; they have been around longer than the dinosaurs and have amazing survival techniques. Human actions have made survival more difficult for turtles. Increased development and fragmented habitats have put turtles more at risk from things like getting hit by a car but also damaged their habitats which is primarily wetlands. This is where the OTCC comes in, not only to help injured turtles but also help educate others about turtles.
Wendy showing off a snapping turtle at a turtle talk.
Within the time I was here, we were able to reach so many people. During the pandemic, tours have switched to an online platform, however doing it this way lets us connect with so many more people. These tours were engaging and let people have an inside look in the centre and learn about turtles. We gave tours to all ages, from kindergarten classrooms to university classes. Throughout the tours we were able to instill a newfound desire to protect these special animals. Our tours helped people become more aware of the impacts humans can have on turtles. People were able to learn simple things to help turtles stay safe, like making a nest protector, having a turtle rescue kit in their car, or how to help a turtle cross the road. These are all simple things to learn but could end up saving a turtle’s life. Through these tours more people will be equipped to help the turtles and keep them out of our hospital.
We were able to engage with people over social media too. I was able to create activities and posts that engaged people to participate in being a good turtle trooper. Part of being a good turtle trooper is helping the habitats that turtles occupy. The posts and activities posted were a fun way for people to engage with nature. Helping the environment does not have to be a scary thing and the activities made were fun activities relating to turtles. Social media was great because it was accessible to so many people.
I also participated in daily activities at the OTCC like feeding, cleaning, and weighing the turtles. This let me hang out with the turtles, but I also gained valuable husbandry and handling skills. I handled turtles big and small, and fed big and small mouths. Throughout being at the centre, I was able to see the progress the turtles were making in their recovery, and I learned how to care for them. It was important to track what they were eating, how much, and their weight.
Education and connection are so important. The more people can learn about native turtle species the more that they can protect them. More information about the environment will help people understand how their actions impact nature. We were able to educate and connect people to turtles through our education program. The tours are for any age and there is something for everyone in them. Our social media posts also connected people to the centre and the efforts going on here to help turtles. Once people feel more connected to turtles then they are more likely to help us advocate for them and do their part in protecting turtles.
Throughout my time at the center, I have learned so much about turtles. Turtles are vital to keeping wetlands healthy, they are a critical biodiversity component of these amazing systems that help to filter our water. Turtles will eat rotting fish to help keep the water clean. Also, turtles are amazing nutrient cyclers and seed spreaders. Turtles eat a lot of vegetation where the nutrients will get cycled through their gut and then spread the nutrients around as well as the seeds from the plants. Finally, they are indicator species which means that if somewhere a turtle population is not doing well, likely there is disturbance going on in that system. So, they can tell us when there is something wrong in a system.
My education is centred around the environment. From my schooling, I have become more passionate about conservation and a desire to keeping learning more about how I can help. Helping others learn more about turtles and protecting them has been an amazing experience. Educating people about turtles will aid in their advocacy for these species to help conserve them for years to come.
Happy painted hatchlings after getting fresh water.