Turtles have declined in Ontario and around the world by more than 50% in the last 20 years. We are at risk of losing these species forever. Like other reptiles, turtles are the most imperiled species in the world. This is because turtles face many predators and threats and therefore have very low recruitment rates: scientists estimate only 1 in 100 eggs will make it to adulthood. If turtles lay about 10 eggs a year that means they have to nest for at least 10 years to replace themselves....but first they have to reach maturity in order to lay eggs, and which takes on average 15 years. Therefore a turtle must live for 25 years to replace itself.
One of the biggest man-made threats to turtle populations is road mortality. And road mortality affects adult female turtles significantly (60% of turtles on roads in the summer ).
Please don't remove turtles from their natural habitats. Turtles are protected under the Fish and Widlife Conservation Act, the Endangered Species Act in Ontario and the Species at Risk Act in Canada. Also turtle nest sites are protected under this legislation as Critical Species At Risk Habitats. In Ontario, fines for harming turtles can be up to $25,000.00.
Removing turtles from wild populations reduces the number of turtles in a population and reduces the potential breeding population, therefore affecting the next generations for all time.
While turtles are scavengers and help clean our water, removing dead and decaying matter that in turn support our health, turtles themselves, when in captivity can contract and carry salmonella. Therefore just in case, when you touch a turtle to help it cross a road, it is always important to wash your hands!
If you see an injured turtle and it is possible to rescue it, place it is a plastic box with air holes, keep it warm, do not add water, and contact a turtle hospital. There may be a nearby turtle hospital or volunteers that can bring the turtle to a trauma centre: Ontario Turtle Trauma Centre as part of the Ontario Conservation Centre or Scales Nature Park or Contact Us
Turtle Nesting and Nests
Turtle nests are readily predated by many animals, because all animals love to eat turtle eggs. Nest predation is a natural threat to turtles, but studies have shown that there is an increase in nest predation near human settlements. Therefore, you can help protect the nest by making a nesting cage: Use 2" chicken wire (the size is important to let the little ones escape once they hatch) and form a box shape that is 1.5 x 15 feet and at least 6" inches high so that fox legs cannot readily dig at the nest. You can secure the nesting protector cage using tent pegs. Placing rocks or coloured objects on the cage will only attract predators such as birds that will watch and await the hatchling's exit. Download our Nest Cage Protector Guide
Different species of turtles and at different ages, lays a different amount of eggs. Each turtle species too, and depending on the temperatures will have varying gestation (incubation) periods before the eggs will hatch. We have attempted to summarize the science and general features of turtle nesting: See Turtles and Habitats for our nesting chart.
If the weather is too cold, the turtles may not hatch, and if they do hatch in the cooler summer, for some species, the eggs may be entirely male. If the summer is warm and the nest at the right depth, a productive group of young turtles will emerge.
Helping Turtles and Turtle Habitats on Your Property
Every turtle is important to protect and to maintain in its natural habitat in order to support turtle populations today and for the future.
It is illegal to harm turtles, take wild turtles as pets or to poach turtles for food- this limits the numbers of turtles in the already limited populations.
If you have good turtle habitats on your property, it is important to protect these habitats by limiting changes and damage to the habitat:
- High boat wakes may damage shorelines in lake and wetland habitats
- Removing plant materials will degrade the key features and undermine the food chain in natural habitats.
- "Cleaning" beaches or shores of debris also removes important features for fishes and turtles
- Walking or driving on sandy nesting areas will damage these areas.
- Filling in wetlands and shores with earth or other materials (any earth works) can damage turtle habitat, but also fish habitat too.
We can find a balance in order to have an aesthetic property while keeping habitats healthy and/or naturalizing disturbed habitats:
- You can put signs and small barriers around nest sites and wetlands on your property
- Direct access points, trails, roads or activities away from important features.
- You can improve turtle habitat by adding features that turtles need and use: you can plant native plants to buffer wetlands and nesting areas, and to attract more species that turtles eat (frogs, snails, bugs); and you can leave dead logs that float in the water as good basking areas for turtles.
- Naturalizing shores can be done in a way that is aesthetic: You can choose native plants and shrubs that maintain views to the lake, flower at different times during the growing season, and also attract pollinators, butterflies and birds. Most native plants have a natural filtration function and provide basic habitat features for native wildlife. And most native plants do not require maintenance of watering or fertilizing. We can help you naturalize your property. The Land Between charity offers Design Your Own Shoreline Garden workshops, or site visits- we can help.
- You can even restore or create habitats for turtles by ponding water in shallow areas, planting native plant species, and by adding good sandy and gravely material in adjacent areas on south facing slopes for nests. BUT, it is important to invite in an expert, or call us, before you alter the natural features and grading on your property.
A great fact sheet from our partners at Scales Nature Park: http://www.scalesnaturepark.ca/Downloads/Helping Guide.pdf
Contact us for a site visit and to help you with a turtle habitat stewardship plan and to identify options for conservation.