It is by Grace … Remains of Beloved 125-year-plus Turtle Found
For more than a year, people across cottage country, and even across the province, have been looking for Grace.
Grace was the oldest female snapping turtle on record in the Highlands of Ontario. She was conspicuous due to having just one eye; her left. She also had a distinctive shaped carapace (upper shell). Grace lived and routinely migrated through her home territory in downtown Haliburton village, and she was loved and recognized by locals and also people across the world.
Turtle Guardian staff monitored the area, observing her and also confirming public reports of Grace since 2018. In January 2022 her over-wintering site, a wetland on private property, that was also home to other Wildlife at Risk, was heavily filled in. The wetland, is also a recognized Environmentally-Protected (EP) zone by the municipality, but a lack of standard bylaws in the township - to protect such spaces - played a part in the filling.
Only one viable report since her site was heavily filled in was provided to the Turtle Guardians. It was received in May 2022 when Grace would have been expected to emerge from hibernation, and while the sender indicated the photo that was provided was taken in the area, the tipster was not immediately available and then did not provide sufficient details to verify the sighting.
A call later that summer of a one-eyed turtle in a different watershed in the county was received, however, without pictures and because the area was too far out of her traditional territory, it was dismissed.
This month Grace’s remains were brought into our offices. “We are certain that these are of our beloved friend, as the ocular bones are a match for the unusual form of her eyes, and her suture lines (connections between bone plates) are a match to Grace’s unique carapace” says Leora Berman, founder of Turtle Guardians. However, the condition of her bones, and the location she was found in were unexpected.
The location where Grace was found is a neighbouring watershed to her traditional grounds, where she would have had to travel more than 15 km to arrive at, which is virtually unheard of for Snapping Turtles. More, it is highly unlikely a turtle would travel that distance for the first time in their known history, seemingly out of the blue. Turtles may make changes to territories and patterns but over many years, not within one season. Therefore, the only reasonable explanation for finding Grace at this site was that she was relocated by someone.
Her home territory was Haliburton village and Kashagawigamog Lake, where she was seen by some almost annually for at least 40 years prior to 2022. There are anecdotal reports of her in this area from as far back as the 1970s. Koshlong Lake, where her remains were found, is far from her known territory.
Karol Chorosteki and his partner Stephanie say her skeleton was at the edge of deep waters by the dam at the lake. Her body was near the muddy shoreline. As all parts of her were at the location, predation would appear to not be the cause of her death. Furthermore, her bones were bleached white and no flesh remained. The biology points to her having died many months prior.
Given this finding, the earlier caller from Koshlong in 2022 who reported spotting a turtle missing her left eye, may well have seen Grace.
“It is most likely that Grace became lost because of relocation, and was unable to find a suitable hibernation to survive through the winter.” indicates Berman. And the theory is backed up by well-known turtle-experts from across Ontario. “I have consulted many colleagues since the discovery of her remains this month.” Turtles imprint spatial memories when young, and show extremely high faithfulness to their hibernation sites because these habitats need to have very specific characteristics to make them safe for overwintering. Some turtles have even been shown to hibernate within one metre of where they have in each previous year. If they are displaced they would not know where they are or where to hibernate.
May 2021. Grace Emerging
January 2022. Hibernation site filling
Dysart et al and the Province
The Township of Dysart et al, where Grace’s traditional hibernation site is, is a municipality that lacked some of the most basic laws to protect community assets, such as wetlands and important wildlife species. Environmental Protection zones are important wildlife, flood control, and water quality areas that are often fragile and yet essential. These areas are often home to Endangered wildlife protected also by the Endangered Species Act and Species at Risk Acts.
The province directs municipalities to identify these areas and protect them.
Instead of choosing a standard or appropriate solution to over 30 years of lacking protections, and after 125,000 signatures on a Change.org petition (https://www.change.org/inthenameofgrace), after the loss of Grace, after other important fish nurseries and water regulating wetlands were lost, Dysart et al passed a bogus bylaw; one that only fines people $700 for infractions, and one that anyone can be exempt from- without meeting criteria or public scrutiny. They also have opted out of new County of Haliburton shoreline preservation bylaw that included site alteration provisions to protect wetlands.
The response by Dysart et al's leaders speaks loudly about their lack of diligence and wisdom, as the bylaw is simply lip service to the thousands that care.
Add to Dysart's placating, the provincial government’s responsibilities have always been to guide and fortify protections of our vanishing wildlife and significant spaces. As Grace’s winter wetland is also home to other Species at Risk protected by the Endangered Species Act, the province had to step in. However, it is unclear if a permit which would authorize the filling will be issued. The provincial leadership have set in motion the systematic dismantling of fundamental protections for wildlife and wetlands across the province - in favour of allowing chosen developers to access and pave paradise. The province also says that creating new wetlands in new areas, is their solution. This so-called “offsetting” will certainly remove hibernation sites, fish nurseries, bird forage areas and more, causing more wildlife deaths.
The municipality and province must do more to protect wildlife, sacred spaces, and legendary turtles, such as Grace.
SIGN OUR PETITION:
Grace was named Bimaadzeewin by Indigenous Knowledge Holders at Curve Lake First Nation. The meaning corresponds to the divine connection and sacred teachings of the Creator on how to live a good life, which were imbued in turtles.
Remembering Grace: Turtle Guardians will launch an annual “Grace Retrospective” Art Competition and Exhibition with proceeds to support young conservation-leader bursaries. Express Interest here
Grace Memorial Walk
A memorial walk will be held in October in Haliburton. The walk will begin at the Haliburton Highschool Football Field grounds, and take a 1km walk adjacent to Grace's hibernation site. We are currently looking for appropriate dates that do not overshadow other events. The walk will be led by Leora Berman and an Indigenous Knowledge Holder. We will be bringing Grace's remains for this ceremonial walk. For info call us at 705-854-2888