Keeping turtles safe
By Jenn Watt
This is the season when we’re most likely to see the fantastic creatures that occupy the wetlands throughout our region. Turtles come out to lay their eggs in spring and for many of us, the time we see the most turtles is when they’re trying to cross our roads.
Much effort has been expended over the years to keep us mindful of the issue.
The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust has invested funding and volunteer time into tracking turtles, documenting where they cross and studying methods of assisting them, including the Turtle Mortality Mitigation Project.
This research looked at using a road culvert as an underpass along with a specially made barrier wall to funnel the creatures to the safe passageway. The research found the methods were effective. With access to the road blocked, turtles used the culvert as was hoped.
The Land Between, an organization that works to preserve the special ecotone between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa Valley, has likewise been pushing for better awareness of the importance of turtles in our environment and raises money to help them.
They are responsible for many of the turtle crossing signs that keep us alert as we traverse the roadways and they’ve made partnerships around the province working to save turtles and educate the public about why that’s important. They’ve created the Turtle Guardian program, which conducts workshops and is holding a Turtle Walk in Haliburton on June 8.
We are well served by turtle protectors.
The issue remains, however, that we don’t have turtle barriers on most of our roads and turtles cross throughout the county, not just where we see signage.
Our presence behind the wheel is the No. 1 threat to turtles.
Especially in Haliburton County, that’s a scary thing because we’ve got a disproportionate amount of the province’s turtles. Six species reside in the Highlands – snapping, painted, Blanding’s, wood, spotted, and stinkpot – and five of those are species at risk (only the painted turtle is not). The Land Between along with the Frontenac Arch has a third of all turtles in Ontario. That means we need to be especially diligent.
It can take decades* of a turtle laying eggs before one survives to adulthood, which means each time a turtle is killed on our roadways, the population has taken a substantial hit.
The land trust includes advice on its website on what to do if you see a turtle trying to cross the road. It can certainly help, if you’re well informed and know what to do, to pull over when it’s safe and assist that turtle across the road.
However, not everyone will feel comfortable or safe doing so. What we can all do easily and safely is be mindful as we drive. May and June are prime turtle crossing months. Just by paying attention and keeping your speed low, you can greatly decrease the likelihood that an accident will happen.
If you do see an injured turtle, the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is the place to call: 705-741-5000. They can tell you what to do.
*Update: The life expectancy of a turtle varies depending on the species.