Submitted by Rod Steinacher
You’ve all seen them this spring and early summer; turtles trying their best to get “quickly” across local roadways, or frozen in fear as vehicles whiz past, dangerously close. Turtles, which are now species at risk, have certainly become a common topic of conversation among local residents these days.
Many people have also been stopping to help turtles across busy roads, with just about everybody keeping an eye out for the critters. This needs to be done safely; pulling well off road with flashers on, being very aware of traffic from both directions, and moving turtles in the direction they are facing. They know where they are going! A winter car shovel kept in the trunk is useful for gently moving Snappers off a road.
Many local residents are driving more slowly through areas where turtles are often seen in spring & early summer, like Baptist Marsh & the Barney Lake corner on the Cape Hurd Road. Other local turtle “hot spots” include the Johnson Harbour/Dorcas Bay Road & Cyprus Lake Road within Bruce Peninsula National Park. Keep your eyes open for turtle crossing signage that can alert you to sensitive areas. However, turtles will travel considerable distances to find a good nesting spot and can turn up almost anywhere!
People are also noticing a number of unusual boxes along the shoulders of area roadways. These are protective “nursery” enclosures to keep egg-loving predators from digging up nests. The boxes will remain in place for about three months, until the baby turtles emerge from the ground and escape the boxes through the exit hole. Decreasing predation of turtle nests allows more of the vulnerable eggs to hatch, better contributing to the maintenance of wild turtle populations. Out at Cape Hurd, neighbours have been calling Turtle Tracker volunteer, Rod Steinacher, to let him know of any nesting behaviour they see, so that a nest can be “boxed” and protected. To date, 13 turtle nests (Painted and Snapping) have been protected in the Baptist Marsh area.
The Turtle Trackers program began last year in the National Park as part of the very successful Road to Recovery project (look them up on line). This spring, members of the public were invited to attend a workshop to build their own nursery boxes, learn some turtle ecology, and how to install the boxes out in the community. Now, more than 40 enthusiastic volunteers, both local residents and cottagers, are involved in the Turtle Trackers program installing nursery boxes in their neighbourhoods. The labels on these boxes have contact information for getting in touch with the Road to Recovery Team, if necessary.
The in-park program, which utilizes some artificial nesting habitat (gravel mounds), has continued. Over 20 nests have been protected with nest boxes within the park, and over 60 outside the park. In addition, 8 nests worth of eggs, laid too close to a road to survive, were placed in a new artificial incubator at the park. In total, almost 90 have been protected so far this year (up from 20 in 2018).
Tricia Robins, of the Turtle Tracker program, carefully removes eggs destined for the Park’s new incubator from a turtle nest laid too close to a local road.
Please consider helping out our local turtles, who are just performing their valuable role within the ecosystem, by doing what you (safely) can. Thanks to the many of you out there that already are!