All around the world, there are people working to make their communities a better place. The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is helping in its own way by making sure their turtle populations have a fighting chance!

Ontario has a lot of turtles living within their borders and without them, the area would look a lot different. They’re the place for turtles in Canada; having the highest density and largest species variety for all the country. But, they also have the highest density of roads—and this causes a problem. 1

Canada is home to 25% of the world’s wetlands, which provide us with a healthy water source, and yet we have lost 70% of them in the last 100 years. 2 Turtles play a crucial role in them, but since they’re being injured at an alarming rate, these important ecosystems are at risk. So the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) is working hard to educate the public and use innovative practices save their populations!

Image: A macro shot of a painted turtle

Source: Pixabay

  1. Turtles don’t typically fare well against a speeding car. They can’t move quickly out of the way and it’s almost too easy for drivers to zone out and not see their slow frames. Often, people assume that after being hit, a turtle won’t make it. Yet this isn’t the case.

Even with a crushed shell or a mangled foot, most turtles are able to be rehabilitated and released back to their normal lives. So, here’s where the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre steps in.

People are able to bring the injured turtles they find into the centre. And with a little love, state-of-the-art medical care, and maybe some duct tape, most are able to return back to their homes.

And what’s really cool is that if one of the injured turtles is carrying eggs, the centre incubates them. This makes it so that the babies don’t have to go through the extremely dangerous post-hatch trek to the water (typically over a busy road) from their nests on land, ensuring that more survive and hopefully make it to maturity.

According to Dr. Sue Carstairs, Executive & Medical Director of OTCC,

“Our hatchling program incubated over 4,000 eggs this year [2018], from turtles admitted to our hospital.

We admitted 940 turtles to our hospital.  Every adult is vital since so few of them make it to adulthood and they have such a late maturity. Snapping turtles have to live at least 59 years and produce at least 1500 eggs to even have a chance of replacing themselves in the population.”

(A visual of the reproduction timeline is available here)

For a look into how the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre works and why what they’re doing is so vital to the area, we turn to Fix and Release. This beautiful video below from Scott Dobson will leave us all a little more in love with our reptilian friends.

*As a disclaimer, this film shows medical procedures. So if you have a deep aversion to them, please proceed with caution. Otherwise, please continue. It is stunning. 

The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is doing so much more than providing medical care to turtles.

The centre is conducting field studies by following the juvenile turtles from their hatchling program, who have a “head start”, alongside wild ones, to ensure that they’re helping increase the adult populations of turtles in the wetlands over time. You can find out more about this awesome research in their Fieldwork Blog.

Image: Headstarted juvenile Blanding’s turtles get ready for release at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre

Headstarted juvenile Blanding’s turtles get ready for release!
Source: Ontario Turtle Conservation Center

They’re also advocating for ways for turtles to avoid humans on their journey altogether. One of these ways are ecopassages. These structures guide animals under the road instead of over, which allows them to avoid being in that dangerous situation, to begin with. The centre states that “while road signage helps alert drivers, only the ecopassages seem to prevent mortalities significantly.”

Alongside all of this, they have an extensive education program! With presentations across their province to children, adults from all areas; the general public, conservation fields, and veterinarians. This not only helps the public know what to do if they find an injured turtle but how to avoid them on the roads altogether—and then pass that information along.

You can help the OTCC with all of this!

There’s a lot we can do in our daily lives to help the turtles in our areas thrive.

“Stewardship is the key to moving conservation forward;  If we all do even a small amount, we can move mountains. At the OTCC we strongly believe that every person can make a difference.

Stewardship practices such as helping a turtle across the road (always in the direction they are going) help a great deal (make sure to be SAFE though!). Education is also key to their many other threats; practicing safe fishing, boating and driving habits, naturalizing shorelines; not taking turtles from the wild; not releasing pet turtles,  meeting your local councilor and participating in local meetings regarding ecopassages, volunteering with local rehabilitation centres—these all contribute significantly to conservation.”

—Dr. Sue Carstairs, Executive & Medical Director at the OTCC

But one of the best ways to help the centre right now, since they have a lot of mouths to feed in their facilities, is to donate any amount that you can. Jump on over to their donation page to get involved!

Donate to the OTCC

For more fun facts about turtles and what the centre is doing to mitigate threats against them, please visit their website! You can also follow their journey on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And their Vimeo page has some fantastic information about turtles and how to handle them.

While we were searching outside of OTCC’s content for some additional tips to share with you on how to help a turtle cross the road, we came across this fantastic video from the channel Brave Wilderness.

It goes through what we should and shouldn’t do to help them get to where they’re headed! Including how to handle a snapping turtle, which can get a little treacherous for your fingers if not done correctly.

Please keep in mind that Coyote Peterson is an experienced professional and the only handling of snapping turtles you should be doing if you come across one in the road is gently lifting them a few inches from the ground by the sides of their shell and setting them in the grass in the same direction they were going.

Really, when it comes down to it, everything on the planet is connected.

The number of turtles in the area may not initially hit you as something that would really affect your life… but just wait a few years. If you’re living where they’re a staple and their populations decrease, what surrounds you is sure to change without their presence. We’ve been shown over and over that everything has its place in the ecosystem.

For some examples of the importance of certain species in an ecosystem, take a peek at this article:

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Keep your eyes open for our little friends trying to cross the road. And as always, stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein 

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  1. “Turtles, Roads, and Nests.” Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, Accessed 9 Nov. 2018.
  2. “Wetlands.” Ducks Unlimited Canada, Accessed 9 Nov. 2018.
  3. “Fix And Release.” Vimeo, Scott Dobson, 4 July 2018, Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.
  4. “STOP! Save This Turtle?” YouTube, Brave Wilderness, 6 May 2016, Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.