How to Protect Turtles: Practical Ways to Help an Endangered Species Survive
Turtles have walked the earth and inhabited the oceans since prehistoric times. They are the denizens of wetlands living on bugs, sometimes small fish, aquatic plants and algae. They are ectothermic creatures (cold-blooded); thus, they are often found sunning themselves on a log or exposed rock. Their body temperature changes with their environment. They seek out a sunny place to warm-up their body and when too hot they submerge themselves in the cool pond or under shady vegetation. Turtles are observed most often in June, during the height of their breeding season. Females are often observed crossing the road to reach traditional nesting sites or while looking to lay eggs in the gravel along the road. Turtles look for nesting sites with easy to dig soil that has enough moisture to support the eggs during incubation. Quality nesting sites are also located in sunny areas (also afforded by road-side nesting sites) as the warmth is also required for incubation. The eggs generally hatch in late summer or early fall. The gender of many turtles, including all the turtle species found in the Kawartha area of Ontario, is determined by incubation temperature. More females are produced during long, hot summers. The hatching success rate for turtles is very low as less than one in a hundred turtle eggs laid will hatch and grow into an adult turtle. Although adult turtles have few predators, their young and eggs are easy prey for raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes.
Seven Species of Turtle in Ontario are designated as “species at risk”.
- Snapping Turtle
- Blanding’s Turtle
- Northern Map Turtle
- Wood Turtle
- Spotted Turtle
- Spiny Softshell
Reasons behind the Decline of Turtle Populations in North America
Unfortunately, civilization has damaged and reduced turtle habitat resulting in many turtle species becoming endangered. The following are some of the reasons for the decline of North American turtle species.
- Fragmentation of their habitat by roads means individual populations become isolated from one another. Breeding populations become smaller because fewer animals will cross the road boundary while many that make the attempt are killed during their crossing.
- Destruction of wetland habitat due to nearby construction.
- Direct destruction of wetland that is drained and built up for housing and commercial ventures.
- Increased mortality of turtles crossing a road or venturing too near a road in order to lay eggs in the soft gravel shoulder of the road.
- Hunting of certain species of turtle such as the Snapping Turtle for sport, meat and often for their eggs.
- Introduction of foreign species of turtles such as the release of Red Ear Sliders bought as pets in Ontario, then released into the wild when no longer wanted.
- In the case of sea turtles, collision with boats (particularly propellers) and damage to their habitat by pollution.
- Human encroachment on beach nesting sites of sea turtles.
Turtle Species at Risk in Ontario and parts of United StatesClick thumbnail to view full-size
A number of initiatives have developed in North America to help the struggling turtle populations
- Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center provides a rehabilitation center for mainly Ontario turtles. Anyone who finds an injured turtle can bring that turtle to the center where they provide veterinary care. The Center is often able to extract eggs from female turtles, incubating the eggs and hatching baby turtles. During the winter of 2011/2012 the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center “is caring for approximately 200 healing or young turtles. Last year, more than 600 turtles were submitted.” “This winter the centre is incubating more than 1,000 eggs. The eggs extracted from the Oshawa turtle recently hatched into eight healthy babies.”
- Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue. was established in 1999 to care for turtles, install highway turtle crossing signs, to provide public education and awareness regarding local turtle populations and habitats.
- Ecokare International is conducting an inventory of the over 700 turtle crossing signs in Ontario to determine where and how they are placed in the landscape and ultimately what effect they are having in reducing turtle mortality.
- A new report released by the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature and the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, details the need for a proactive approach to save turtle species. One of their recommendations involves eco-passages – fences leading to culverts under roads with high turtle traffic. Time, money and government cooperation would be key to such eco-roads but the Ministry of Transportation is showing a willingness to work with local organizations.
- The Georgia Sea Turtle Center operates on Jekyll Island, Georgia and through its education programs increases awareness of habitat and wildlife conservation challenges. It is a hospital for ill and injured sea turtles.
- American Tortoise Rescue was created in 1990 for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle.
- Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center: A Sea Turtle Hospital on Topsail Island, NC is an American not for profit in North Carolina committed to the care and release of sick and injured Sea Turtles.
- Critter Crossings This web site from the US Department of Transportation describes transportation's impacts on wildlife and highlights exemplary projects and processes that are helping to reduce these impacts.
- Ontario Wildlife Rescue Their primary goal is to connect people who have found injured or orphaned wild animals including turtles with those who can look after them and get them back into the wilds. Through a network of rehabilitators and wildlife centres across Ontario, they try to save as many wild animals as possible.
 Frank, Sarah. “Uncertain Future”. Peterborough This Week. Friday, February 24, 2012.
 Frank, Sarah. “Uncertain Future”. Peterborough This Week. Friday, February 24, 2012.
What do I do if I find an Injured Turtle?
- Record the exact location where the turtle was found. This action helps to identify road mortality hotspots and allows the healed turtle to be returned to its original habitat.
- Carefully remove the turtle from the road taking note of any gross injuries. For snapping turtles, see the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre website for specific information on handling these creatures.
- Handle the turtle as little as possible.
- If possible, place the injured turtle in a clean container for transportation.
- Do not give the turtle food or water.
- Take the turtle to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center.
- Call any shelter considered first, as some shelters do not treat injured reptiles.
What can you as an Individual do to help struggling Turtle Populations?
- Do not release pet turtles into the wild.
- If you come across a turtle crossing the road, help it to do so safely. Always make sure you move the turtle in the direction they were travelling. Shuffle them onto a car mat and pull them across the road to speed up the crossing. Snapping Turtles if needed to be coaxed across the road require a bit more care. Never handle them near the head. The Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre provides instructions for the safe handling of Snapping Turtles.
- Set up a campaign to raise funds for turtle crossing signs to be placed along high risk roads near wetlands where turtles are known to cross the road.
- Raise awareness in your school community by researching the plight of turtles in your area and presenting your results in class or as a science fair project.
- Do not buy products made from turtle skin or shell.
- Avoid buying wild turtles as pets.
- If you live in or sight a turtle in Ontario, visit the Ontario Turtle Tally website to report your turtle sighting.
- Organize a group to clean-up local stream and pond areas of human debris.
- If your property is suitable, create a mini-wetland in your yard by building a small pond. You will be sure to attract wildlife including local turtles and frogs!
- Organize a fundraiser or rally to support a local turtle rehabilitation centre.
Where to Take Injured Turtles found in Ontario
Location of the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center
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