A version of this article was included in Issue 005 (July 31, 2020) of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine. Header photo from @raresites.
Have you ever seen a turtle crossing the road?
All eight species of turtle in Ontario are considered at-risk, mostly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by roads or construction. Since 2017, rare Charitable Research Reserve has been working hard to mitigate these human factors with its Protect the Turtles egg incubation project. rare gathers turtle eggs that are in danger due to the location of their nest, brings them back for artificial incubation, and releases them back into the wild after they hatch. The project also collects valuable data such as nesting locations and turtle mortality rates.
This year, rare’s permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to excavate turtle nests was extremely delayed, while reports of nests in dangerous locations across Waterloo Region began to pile up. Without the permit, the organization was not allowed to collect any eggs. All rare could do was put out a call to the public to help build nest protectors to cover the eggs where they were, and hope that would be enough.
Dave Devisser, a long-time resident of Cambridge, was one of the people who heard rare’s call. Dave has always loved living close to nature, and enjoys hiking and checking out the local wildlife, like butterflies and ospreys. He had supported rare before, through the annual Walk & Run for rare, and jumped at the opportunity to do even more.
Dave dug out his tools and got to work. He drilled four long, narrow boards to create a square frame, and covered the top with hardwire mesh nailed tightly to the wood. He included two notches, just 2×1” big, for the baby turtles to exit the protector once they hatched. In the end, Dave completed four identical turtle protectors which he dropped off at rare.
Images by Dave Devisser
“The protectors are to stop people from stepping on the nests or from predators getting in and harming the eggs,” Dave said. “I was looking for ways to be more involved with nature, and this was a great way to physically protect it. It’s nice to support local biodiversity.”
This year, rare was able to collect 1900 eggs from 66 nests (once the permit came through), and protect an additional 42 nests thanks to protectors provided by community members. While uplifted by the community support, Logan Mercier, a conservation technician assistant at rare, cautions that this is not a permanent solution to turtle endangerment. “Really, we need to focus on road mitigation, and we need to stop building in their habitat; we need to stop fragmenting their habitat,” Mercier said in a recent article in The Record.
The turtle hatchlings are expected to be released in mid-August. This year’s Walk & Run for rare will be held virtually for the month of September. For more information, please visit https://raresites.org/.
If you find an injured turtle, please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre Hotline at 705-741-5000.