Ontario is home to eight species of freshwater turtles. Of the eight species, all of them are listed as at-risk due to pressures of pollution, habitat loss, poaching, and road mortality. All of these factors are collectively pushing many Ontario turtle populations to the brink of local extinction. Is all hope lost? No, Earthroots is calling on citizens, municipalities, and the province to take simple actions of habitat protection and road upgrades to protect existing turtles and ensure their longevity in Ontario.
Where are Ontario's Turtles Found?
Ontario turtles can be found just about everywhere in the central and southern Ontario. They live in rivers, lakes, ponds, shorelines, marshes, bogs, and fens. Many species of freshwater turtles in Ontario can even be seen in the heart of major cities like Toronto and Hamilton. Turtles require complex wetland habitats to nest and over-winter in, with good vegetation and healthy fish and insect populations to feed on. Southern Ontario has lost over 70% of its original wetlands to developments like agriculture, urban sprawl, roads, and bridges. With habitat loss at a high, it is paramount to protect our remaining wetlands and restore shorelines, marshes, bogs, and fens in developed regions.
What's Killing Them?
Road mortality is one of the leading causes of turtle population declines. It can take up to 25 years for a female turtle to be able to nest and each female could lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime, so losing even one female can have large impacts on fragile populations. Roads pose a double threat to our turtles. First, they are generally built through wetland complexes, forcing turtles to cross busy routes to feed and nest. While slowing for turtle signs is helpful, it doesn't prevent fatal hits, especially during low-light conditions. Secondly, turtles like to nest in soft warm sands and gravels, not all that different from the shoulders of roads. This illusion of a prime nesting location alongside roads brings female turtles and their hatchlings in close proximity of cars, further increasing hit likelihood.
What we’re doing, and how you can help.
Earthroots has two call-to-actions in safeguarding Ontario’s freshwater turtles:
1. The provincial and federal governments must plan upcoming protected areas in Ontario around known turtle breeding and nesting habitat. Wetlands need to have high connectively for turtles and provide optimal nesting habitats.
2. Provincial and municipal road agencies must upgrade roads to include wildlife underpasses which allow for the safe underground passage of turtles and other wildlife under already in-place roads which cut through wetlands. Wildlife underpasses should be prioritized along routes with known data of turtle-vehicle collisions, addressing both number of vehicle hits and the at-risk status of turtle species.
Earthroots believes a combination of protected habitat and upgrading existing road infrastructure to include mitigation for turtle passage is key in the success of Ontario’s turtle population.