Stefany Harris/The Oshawa Express
All eight turtle species in Ontario are at risk of disappearing from the province.
Five species are considered threatened including the Blanding’s turtle, spiny softshell turtle, spotted turtle, stinkpot turtle and wood turtle. The northern map turtle, snapping turtle and now the midland painted turtle are designated as special concern.
Most species of turtles don’t mature until they’ve reached 20 years of age, meaning they won’t start thinking about mating and procreating until then.
Because of man-made changes to their habitat, turtles are susceptible to more population deficit in the future.
Coastal wetland stressors such as salt runoff from roads, metals from brakes pads and other factors are affecting the quality of the conservation lands and wetlands.
The Oshawa Harbour used to be all wetland, and was a main area where turtles in Ontario used to live and where females would lay their eggs.
“Now that there is more concrete and less area to live in, turtles are looking for a new area,” says Dan Moore, aquatic biologist for Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA).
This causes turtles, mostly female, to cross over roads to find a safe area to lay their eggs.
According to turtle taxi driver Karin Martens-Wasylyk, they’re susceptible of being thought of as “just rocks” to drivers and are accidentally run over.
Martens-Wasylyk works for the Turtle Ontario Conservation Centre in Peterborough to help injured wild turtles all over Ontario, including Oshawa.
She picks up injured turtles and drives them to the centre where the animals can be appropriately treated. The centre team members fix cracked shells and heads by taping and suturing. If the turtle is in shock or distress, a saline fluid will be injected under the shell.
After the turtles have been rehabilitated and is safe for them to return home, the taxi driver will return the animal from where it was found.
This year, approximately 50 turtles have been sent to the centre since April, but the numbers are highly likely to increase over the year until September.
In 2018, 950 turtles from April to September were admitted, rehabilitated and released.
Martens-Wasylyk recalls when she was driving one day, she spotted something on the road that she couldn’t quite recognize until she was very close. The object she spotted happened to be a turtle passing by, and she quickly slammed on her brakes, ran out of her car and helped guide the animal safely across the road.
“If we can help just one turtle or tell one person to be aware of them, we can save these creatures. Turtles are just as important as any other animal,” she said.
CLOCA, along with the Durham Woodworking Club in Oshawa, have created a new method to monitor the population of the turtles in the area in a safe and effective way.
They have designed turtle basking boxes which help to transport turtles to more appropriate habitats.
Calvin Perry, director of community relations for the club took responsibility for the project and put together a team of nine members to develop a suitable design.
The nine members were Perry, Greg Nevin, Bill Melnychuk, Pat Mawhinney, Neil Fickling, Margo McNab, William Spekkens, Wayne Peden and Gene Hutchison.
The plans for making the boxes started last summer and they were completed at the beginning of May. The workers put together several designs and mock-ups before settling on a specific plan.
Spekkens was instrumental in the design of the turtle basking boxes – out of four potential designs, his was chosen and approved by Moore.
The turtle basking boxes will be used for turtles to lie on in conservation areas and wetlands around Ontario.
Designed to look like a wooden platform or a log, turtles climb up to the top to bask in the sun for as long as they please. The boxes have an attached net on the bottom that will trap a sunbathing turtle when he or she decides to flop back into the water.
They made 10 boxes that are two-and-a-half feet wide and 4 feet long. The budget for the project was $1,000.
“The Durham Woodworking Club did an amazing job for us. The amount of thought the workers put into this project was outstanding,” says Moore.
On May 15, CLOCA workers tested the turtle basking boxes out in the wetlands.
Moore says the boxes haven’t officially been used by turtles, but they will soon. The boxes will be taken out into the water by a canoe and will be left out in different areas of the wetlands for a large portion of the year.
“There will be someone coming out every day to check the inner net portion, and if there is a turtle inside, they will ID and name them, check their size and weight, and see if there are any health issues (which if there are, they would be taken in for rehabilitation and released afterwards),” said Moore.
CLOCA’s project is about looking at the population of Ontario’s turtles and trying to see how it’s changing over time. They know the species population is in decline, but they don’t have any specific population counts yet.
CLOCA members are hoping that the turtle basking box traps will become an asset to success of this project and become the beginning of a better and safer environment for the turtles.