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  • Helen Kohl

Saving turtles and snakes one egg and reptile at a time

Georgian Bay Biosphere thinks outside the shell

Members of the Parry Sound Nature Club were recently inspired by Tianna Burke’s presentation of the Georgian Bay Biosphere's (GBB) activities to protect at-risk turtles and snakes.

Turtle Incubation

For the past four years, GBB has been collecting, incubating and monitoring local at-risk turtle eggs, then releasing them as hatchlings back into their home wetlands. Much of this work has been done in partnership with local First Nation communities and townships. The knowledge gained to do this work has been made possible by partners along the coast facilitating reptile programs and knowledge sharing.

In a pilot project within the Township of the Archipelago, workers cleared the top two inches of soil before they began digging for road construction, and GBB staff safely uncovered and collected dozens of turtle eggs. This project also tested a "turtle friendly" road culvert approach which was also successful. The project was awarded the Peter J. Marshall Innovation Award in 2021 and the Natural Asset Management Award in 2022.

Turtles in our region begin laying eggs in June. GBB staff monitor turtles and extract nests in locations where they’re least likely to survive—construction areas, roads, bridges and housing developments. In years where there is greater capacity for care, this may be extended to areas of high predation.

“Approximately one out of 1,400 turtle eggs survive into reproducing adults,” said Burke, GBB Lands and Wildlife Programs Manager. “Eggs are often a food source for predators like raccoons, skunks, foxes and ravens. Hatchlings and adult turtles face similar and extended threats such as road mortality and human persecution.”

Thousands of eggs are incubated in a eight-incubator room at the GBB office in Parry Sound. After two months, 91% of these eggs become viable hatchlings— much higher than the 1% that would survive in the wild. Staff release the hatchlings into the water where they came from.

“This work is definitely not something that you can do at home,” said Burke, “it requires many permits and knowledge of care. It’s a very delicate process to ensure each and every turtle receives the care it deserves.”

Road Mortality Mitigation

“Snakes and turtles risk their lives when they cross busy roads to get to habitat,” said Burke. “Their natural camouflage and instinct to freeze serves them well in nature, but these characteristics endanger them on roads.”

GBB is also testing a mitigation fence that is an alternative to the vertical fence we might see on the 400 highway. Current fences may keep animals off highways but some of the more agile snakes and snapping turtles can climb them. A recently piloted 1.2 meter-high fence made of PVC culvert piping, is being tested in the Township of Carling. The concave side of this design faces away from the road, and its top lip is flush with the road surface. Turtles and snakes below the fence should be unable to climb onto the road, while any wildlife that is on the road will be able to escape off of it easily. Research on this fence is currently underway by Laurentian University and we look forward to learning more.

Interested in More?

You can join an turtle hatchery tour during hatching season in August or watch out for the Turtle Open House, hosted by the Biosphere. Want to help? Watch for snakes or turtles while driving. Contact the Ontario Turtle Trauma Centre if you see an injured turtle, or a stranded turtle trying to enter frozen water in the fall. Call or text 705-955-4284 for the S.T.A.R.T. Reptile Hotline to report sightings of rare, nesting, injured or dead reptiles in Ontario

Thanks to Tianna Burke for her presentation. Parry Sound Nature Club’s next events are the Christmas Bird Count on December 16, and the Impact of Road Mediation and Artificial Nesting Habitats for Turtles on January 17. Go to the Parry Sound Nature Club Facebook page for more information.


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