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Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

550 attend turtle release

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More than $2,000 raised for turtle hospital at Morrison Dam Conservation Area turtle release event by Huron Stewardship Council

More than 500 people attend second turtle release event

Families, youths, children from as far away as Hamilton area, London and Stratford visit Exeter area for event to release turtle hatchlings back into wild; Event donors, partners raise more than $2,000 for Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre

Organizers estimate 550 people attended the second turtle hatchling release event at Morrison Dam Conservation Area east of Exeter on Thursday, August 31, 2017. People of all ages came from far and wide for the turtle release event. They came from as far away as London, Stratford, and from Six Nations of the Grand River (Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Tuscarora) – Turtle Clan of the Cayuga Nation – near Hamilton. 

The people came to meet live turtles and, supervised by the Huron Stewardship Council (HSC), to help to release 49 turtle hatchlings back into their maternal waters. They released Painted Turtles and Snapping Turtles, both native Ontario freshwater turtle species. The Snapping Turtle is listed as Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and the federal Species at Risk Act. The species is designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Those at the event also donated and raised funds for Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC), home of the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre. “I was thrilled with the number of people who came and with the generosity of the community,” said Jory Mullen, Lead Species at Risk Technician for HSC. “The event raised more than $2,000 for the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre.”

Money raised from the turtle release event will help the turtle hospital as it rehabilitates the many injured turtles at the turtle centre. The centre operates on donations from the public. OTCC has admitted more than 800 injured turtles already this year. The centre is in greater need of donations in 2017 as there has been twice as many turtle patients admitted than the year before. As a result of the increase in turtle casualties, the centre has called it a “State of Emergency” for Ontario’s turtles. Seven of Ontario’s eight turtle species are listed as species at risk. “We absolutely need to support centres like the OTCC,” said Mullen.

It was amazing to see so many people interested in turtles and attending the turtle hatchling release event, according to Hope Brock, Healthy Watersheds Technician with Ausable Bayfield Conservation. “It really was a great opportunity to interact with turtles and also to learn about them, and to learn how one can help protect them,” she said. Protecting Ontario’s turtle species can be as simple as helping turtles cross roads. “You can also help turtles by enhancing wetlands or protecting habitat on your property,” said Brock.

A turtle hatchling release event was held for the first time in 2016. That first event drew more than 250 people. More than double that number attended the second event, held in 2017. The August 31 event featured live turtles, reptile art, and fun learning stations such as animal displays, geocaching, and wetlands. Organizers thanked the people who came, the volunteers who helped with turtle release and information stations and displays, and the partners who made the event possible. Live native turtles were on display courtesy of Scales Nature Park and that nature park south of Orillia also provided the (costumed) Brandy the Blanding’s Turtle. Children were excited to meet Brandy and give her a hug or have their photo taken with her. Composite Creations brought hand-crafted canoes and kayaks to be rented in exchange for donations to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre. Many other partners had displays.

The turtles at the release event were hatched from eggs that had been laid in unsuitable locations or from female turtles hit and killed by cars. Staff of HSC and Ausable Bayfield Conservation collected the eggs and incubated them to save the turtle hatchlings. “Our native Ontario turtle species face many threats such as cars and from having their eggs eaten by other predators in the wild,” Mullen said. “It makes me feel very hopeful, however, to see turtles released. It shows how our community is playing a positive role in the work to save these important species.”

The local ecological system needs diverse animal species. Each species plays a role to keep that system healthy. The turtle is a vital part of that ecosystem, according to Brock. Turtles help to control aquatic vegetation and they serve as scavengers. “This means they help clean our creeks and wetlands by eating dead and decaying fish and other organisms,” she said.

Habitat loss and road mortality (death by cars and other vehicles) are just some of the threats native turtle species face. Each year thousands of turtles in Ontario are hit by cars. In the spring, most of those turtles are pregnant females looking for a place to lay their eggs. In the summer and autumn, the majority are males looking for new ponds and new mates.

The Huron Stewardship Council and Ausable Bayfield Conservation work in partnership with the community to save our local turtles and rescue injured turtles hit by cars. Community members are active reporting turtle sightings to Ausable Bayfield Conservation. The conservation authority then alerts HSC to turtle nests laid in dangerous locations such as roadsides and driveways. Huron Stewardship Council then harvests those eggs and incubates them until they hatch. Staff from the two agencies collect dead female turtles hit by cars. HSC staff extract eggs from injured mother turtles in an attempt to save the offspring. Staff obtain appropriate permits to handle turtles and incubate eggs.

Local people help turtles by creating nesting habitat on their properties, helping turtles cross the road, and working with their local municipalities and communities to erect turtle crossing sings and to build safe passages across roads. To find out more about how to protect turtle species in this part of Ontario visit hsc.huronstewardship.ca and the turtle web page at abca.on.ca.