The top turtle stories from Parks Canada, 2020–2021
The past two years have been a memorable time for turtles at Parks Canada. From protecting turtle nests to releasing young turtles into the wild, staff had their hands full with these important (and never hasty) reptiles.
But we need to move fast to help this ancient group of animals. “Turtles are among the most threatened of the major groups of vertebrates,” writes biologist Jeffrey Lovich and his co-authors in the journal BioScience.
Turtles—especially baby turtles—face a lot of life challenges. Scientists estimate that less than two percent of hatchlings survive to adulthood.
At Thousand Islands National Park in Ontario, a program called R.A.R.E. (Reptile and Amphibian Recovery and Education) is working hard to boost those odds.
As part of the program, the park collects turtle eggs, incubates them, and releases the hatchlings into the wild. R.A.R.E. also lends turtle nest boxes to local landowners so turtle nests on private property are also protected from predation and the eggs can hatch safely.
In 2020, Parks Canada and its partners successfully incubated 31 turtle eggs and released the hatchlings. Thirty-five nest boxes were provided to local landowners, and six turtle nests were protected inside the park.
In June 2020, 57 young Blanding’s turtles were released into a wetland in Ontario’s Rouge National Urban Park. The turtles had been raised for two years, safe from predators, at the Toronto Zoo.
This long-lived turtle species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years. But before 2014, the species’ future was uncertain. As few as seven Blanding’s turtles remained in Rouge.
This was the seventh year that Blanding’s turtles, a species at risk, have been released into the Rouge. The program has now reintroduced almost 400 young turtles into the park.
Parks Canada works with 10 First Nations with respect to the planning and operations of the park that form the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle. In 2020, Elder Garry Sault of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation did a virtual blessing of the Blanding’s turtles before they were released to send them off on their journey.
At Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula National Park, the “Turtle Trackers” citizen science program helps make the world safe for young turtles.
“Turtle Trackers” is part of the park’s “On the Road to Recovery” project.
In the spring, volunteers look for nesting turtles at hotspots throughout the park. When a nesting turtle is found, volunteers install a protective box overtop the nest. The box keeps the eggs safe from predators such as raccoons and skunks.
From late August to September, the Turtle Trackers remove the boxes and help the baby turtles make it to suitable habitat.
Managers of national parks, historic sites and canals face a real balancing act: how do they welcome people to their sites while protecting the resident plants and animals?
In the summer of 2018, Quebec’s Chambly Canal National Historic Site came up against just such a challenge. A visitor alerted Parks staff that a mother snapping turtle was laying her eggs under a guardrail near a busy, high-traffic area.
Parks Canada staff constructed a wire cage resembling a pen to protect the eggs. Then they kept watch… for over two months.
Finally, one hot Sunday in August, some tiny, barely audible cracking noises could be heard...
The story repeated itself the following year, in 2019, when 33 turtles were born under the watchful eye of Parks Canada staff.
And while COVID-19 has made it difficult to monitor the nesting areas, Parks Canada staff are ready to help again as the summer of 2021 unfolds.
Roads are an ever-present danger for many animals, but especially reptiles and amphibians.
A few years ago, Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick constructed four eco-passageways on route 117 in the park. Two of these are small, designed for frogs, salamanders and other amphibians. Two others are much larger and can accommodate wood turtles and snapping turtles.
But the turtles are not the only animals who benefit from the passageways: skunks, mice and even a bear have been photographed using them.
Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site is the richest area for turtles in Atlantic Canada. Luckily for the turtles, it is also rich in volunteers.
The year 2021 marked 33 years of nest protection for Blanding’s turtles in Kejimkujik. This work has become more and more volunteer-based over the decades.
Researchers and volunteers who work with these long-lived reptiles have to wait years to see their recovery efforts pay off. Females take about 20 years to mature and begin adding to the population—clearly an important factor in saving a species.
Over the past two years, volunteers have observed three first-time nesters in Kejimkujik. To add to the excitement, one of the new nesters was hatched from a protected nest herself—and is the first female born from a protected nest to lay eggs.
- Volunteer opportunities at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
- Video: Blanding’s turtles in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site