Ontario is home to seven different species of turtle, all of which are species at risk. Click to find out what “species at risk” means!
Now that you're familiar with the terms, is it shocking to realize that three of Ontario’s turtles are special concern (Eastern Musk Turtle, Northern Map Turtle and Snapping Turtle), two of Ontario’s turtles are threatened (Blanding’s Turtle and Spiny Softshell) and two of them are endangered (Spotted Turtle and Wood Turtle)?
The Eastern Box Turtle is also considered a turtle species native to Ontario, but unfortunately it has been extirpated for over 100 years, due to destruction of its forest habitat. Nowadays, it’s common for them to be captured in the wild and sold as pets. Unfortunately, if the new owner doesn’t take proper care of this creature, their life span can be as low as three days when in captivity. Legal hunting of another one of Ontario’s turtle species, the Snapping Turtle, which is often found in the Greenbelt’s Rouge Park, was just criminalized this year. The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre and the David Suzuki Foundation warns people who think of eating this species of special concern, due to excessive PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury levels that the turtles take in from their environment and diet. If you see a restaurant serving turtle soup, or some other form of turtle delicacy, please alert the authorities.
Many people think the Red-Eared Slider is native to Ontario, but they’re wrong! They’re in fact an invasive species, which means the native species has to compete with the Sliders for food and shelter.
Losing even one turtle is harmful to the population, and it affects the surrounding ecosystem negatively as well.
Have you ever seen a sign like this?
Please slow down if you see one of these signs! Turtles that are crossing the road usually are adult females trying to lay eggs on dry land, but can’t reach their destination without putting themselves in danger due to road construction. This situation is because of habitat fragmentation, which is best explained with this quote:
“Imagine that one day you are driving to work, and suddenly there is a new wall in the road blocking you from going any further. You know what is on the other side - your office, the grocery store, your friends and family. However, you are now completely disconnected from these important resources, and going about your life normally doesn't really seem like an option any longer.”
If you see an injured turtle, which was hit by a car or harmed in some other way, follow this site to instructions on how to save our scaly friends. https://ontarioturtle.ca/get-involved/roads/ If you found a snapping turtle, don’t be scared! There are ways to help them without getting yourself hurt in the process. Look out for turtles especially in June, which is their nesting season.
If you want another way to help your local reptile, participate in the Ontario Turtle Tally. By submitting your turtle sightings here: http://www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/turtletally.asp , you help the Natural Heritage Information Centre learn more about distribution, location and threats that pertain to Ontario’s turtles. If you need help identifying who's who, the Toronto Zoo has handy-dandy turtle guides.
Can’t spot a turtle in your neighbourhood? Not to worry, there’s still more you can do! When you pour something like pesticides, bleach, chemical soaps and shampoos or hair-dye down your sink, they can end up in turtle habitats, like ponds. Instead, dispose of these things at your local hazardous waste center.
Not everybody thinks the turtles are worth saving. On May 18th, 2017, the Ontario Government growth plan concerning the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Greenbelt, the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area and the Niagara Escarpment was updated, and Ontario Nature's director, Dr. Anne Bell, thinks it will negatively impact Ontario's species at risk.
Disappointing policy changes in the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine include significantly weakening protections for the habitat of endangered species. “We are taken aback that policy safeguards for our most vulnerable plants and animals were removed,” says Dr. Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s Director of Conservation and Education. “On one hand we’re pleased the government has committed to protecting the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s natural heritage system. On the other hand, if the policies don’t protect species at risk in the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt, where is there left for those species to go?”
Turtles deserve to live long, safe lives in Ontario just as much as we do, and it's up to us to help them attain that.