Our Story & Mission 

Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (home of Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre) is a registered charity whose goal is to protect and conserve Ontario’s native turtles and the habitat in which they live. We accomplish this by operating a turtle hospital that treats, rehabilitates, and releases injured turtles, by performing extensive research in the field to further conservation initiatives, and by running a comprehensive education and outreach program.

OTCC strives to increase awareness of the challenges facing Ontario’s turtles and to inspire individuals to act- that one person truly can make a difference!

Turtle Rehabilitation and Conservation – Locally and Globally

Globally, turtles are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates.  There are more than 300 species worldwide, and shockingly about half of these are threatened with extinction.  The cause of population declines are common to all areas-

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation
  • Road Mortality
  • Poaching for the pet and food trades
  • Boating mortalities and fishing bycatch
  • Predation of eggs by predators inadvertently supported by human populations (such as raccoons).

Why should we worry about a decline in wetlands, and in turtles generally? Why should we worry about conserving turtles?

If you are reading this, you likely don’t need convincing that turtles need conserving, and that conservation of a species doesn’t need a ‘reason’.  However, others may not feel that way, and so it’s important to point out that there are real and valid ‘reasons’ for conserving them.  Turtles are major biodiversity components of the ecosystems they inhabit, and wetlands are the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. While Canada holds 25% of the world’s wetlands, we have already lost 70% of them over the last century, due to human development.    Often turtles are the biggest biomass in these wetland ecosystems.  The loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems has unpredictable effects, but they are always negative.  The web of life depends on all components, and just like in the game ‘Jenga’, a loss of a critical mass will lead to complete collapse. Why should we care about wetlands?  Wetlands are essential for us as humans too! Wetlands act as the ‘kidneys’ or the filtration system of our water source- unhealthy wetlands means an unhealthy water source. They also act as an erosion prevention, and also  aid in flood control by storing excess water during storms.  Of course, they also provide habitat critical for all wildlife and fish populations.

Apart from all these positive effects of healthy wetlands (which depend on turtles), turtles are such amazing creatures in their own right.  They have been around virtually unchanged for 220 million years – this is longer than the dinosaurs! We have created the problems for their population, and we must create the solutions.  Turtles have such incredible physiological abilities that we as humans can  learn from.  Their hibernation ability is quite amazing in itself – some can even survive full freezing and then thawing! They can survive in almost zero oxygen levels and can switch to anaerobic respiration easily, and have auxiliary measures for absorbing oxygen.  Even in the warm weather, they can hold their breath for very long periods – this is very useful for them when living most of their lives in water. From a medical point of view, their superior (although slow) healing abilities make treatment of them very rewarding….they can even regenerate nervous tissue.  Another very useful and phenomenal adaptation turtles have, is the ability of females to store sperm- for years sometimes.  For a species that isn’t particularly social, this is very useful indeed!

So, even for those not conservation-minded, turtle conservation just makes good sense.

Take a look inside the OTCC:

Created by Scott Dobson, Director, Producer, Story Editor

This video, filmed by CBC Life, tells the story of #733 – “Spunky”, a snapping turtle that was hit by car and treated at the OTCC.

Ontario Turtles – A Species at Risk

Kids 4 Turtles were the original inspiration for the formation of the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre. This group of young conservationists, ages 3-10, raised almost $5,000 to purchase turtle crossing signs and obtained permission from the Peterborough County Council to erect signs throughout the county. Kids continue to play a major role in fundraising and awareness campaigns.

Visit the Kids section of our site to read more about kids we look up to.

With all eight species of Ontario turtles now listed as species at risk (on May 2, 2018, the Midland Painted turtle was given a designation of “Special Concern” for Canada), there is much work to be done to prevent turtles from disappearing from our ecosystems. But each turtle saved can make a difference. Less than 1% of eggs make it to adulthood, so every turtle’s ability to reproduce over many decades is crucial. Thankfully there is plenty we can all do to help make Ontario a safer place for turtles!

  • Visit the Turtles 101 section of our site for more information about turtle biology, ecology, and the species that are native to Ontario
  • In the Get Involved section you will find information how to become a volunteer, member, donor, or lend a hand to turtles you come across on the road or on the water.

OTCC works hard to ensure that our fundraising practices are transparent and accessible to you. If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. Annual Reports can be found here.

Recognitions and Awards

2020 – The Order of Ontario, to Dr. Sue Carstairs.     Press Release

2018 – The Environmental Excellence Stewardship Award from the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority

The Otonobee Regional Conservation Authority presented the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre with an award for Environmental Excellence in the area of Stewardship.  OTCC’s extensive education program promotes stewardship practices to a wide audience, in interactive presentations both on-site and as outreach.  We also practice what we preach, and even recently planted a pollinator garden in our outdoor education facility!

2017 – Women in History Month

OTCC’s  Executive and Medical Director Dr. Carstairs was recognized at a reception at Queen’s Park that highlighted 25 women ‘leading and shaping the future’.  Her recognition was  in the area of conservation.

2016 – The Silver Salamander Award

The Silver Salamander Award is presented by the Canadian Herpetological Society, to an individual or an organization in recognition of a specific contribution to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Canada.

2019 J. R. Dymond Public Service Award.  OTCC’s Executive and Medical Director Dr. Sue Carstairs received Ontario Nature’s  J. R. Dymond Public Service award, for her leadership with Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre and lifelong passion providing veterinary care for wildlife.

Visit the OTCC e-store

Show your support with a purchase

Learn about Volunteering

Become a vital part of the OTCC