It is a time and place of hope- standing up for nature in Ontario.
It is Turtle Walk time – Let’s help our slow friends come in first.
Turtles were here before the dinosaurs, have made it through 5 mass extinctions, but are now facing imminent threats to their survival. Although turtles can live a very long time (some biologists indicate they may live many hundreds of years), it actually takes at least 60 years for one snapping turtle to replace itself – and snappers are the most fecund (prolific egg-layers) of all turtles.
In 2017 The Land Between charity declared an emergency for turtle populations in Ontario because more than 10 times the amount of road mortalities were counted across the Highlands, representing a long-term and devastating loss to Ontario’s populations. Each year, turtles are killed on roads and these animals cannot rebound from these losses easily.
And turtles are essential to our well being. They are the foundation of our lake ecosystems and our health too. This is because turtles are the best cleaning crew for our lakes and ponds. They scour lake bottoms eating all the decaying carcasses of dead fish, frogs and pollywogs, essentially removing harmful bacteria that would otherwise plague our water resources- Therefore, turtles keep us healthy, but they also help all the fish and wildlife that depend on freshwater too.
However, we continue to lose too many turtles to road mortality year after year. Meanwhile, these losses can be stopped. The Turtle Guardians is a program of 10 charities and groups that have banded together to save turtle populations in Ontario. The lead organization is The Land Between charity, an organization that represents cottage country, a place that is also known as The Land Between bioregion. This landscape sits between the Canadian Shield to the north and the Mixed Wood Plains to the south and it stretches from Georgian Bay to the Ottawa Valley. It is here, in The Land Between that the majority of lakes but also rock barrens in Ontario are found, and so it is a place where the majority of turtles call home! Therefore, The Land Between bioregion is a place of hope. It is here where we can reverse the losses to Ontario’s turtles and in doing so we can also help fish and wildlife, and support all the ecosystem services that benefit all of southern Ontario. And to make the necessary changes and recover the losses, now is the time.
The Land Between along with Scales Nature Park are working to quantify turtle populations, qualify turtle habitats, and identify potential turtle tunnel sites (where turtles can be directed under roads) and in partnership with sponsors, funders and municipalities, install them efficiently. The Turtle Guardians program also supports the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, home to the Ontario’s turtle hospital, so that injured turtles can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. The Trillium Lakelands District School Board are also partners of the project and are helping to deliver curriculum to kids about the natural world around them.
This is the second year of the Turtle Walks. Walks are hosted by the Turtle Guardians and are in communities across the region. Leora Berman, COO of The Land Between and Coordinator of Turtle Guardians says “It is a chance for people to support nature in their own backyards, in Ontario. In that way it is breaking new ground. It is really a first for this province and a new opportunity to contribute.” The walks take place during the first weekends in June corresponding to the peak nesting season for turtles, when turtles are travelling across or near roads and are at the highest risk for road injury. Walks are held on Saturday mornings from until noon and they help raise awareness and funding to save Ontario’s turtles.
Each year, the walk has a theme. 2019 is the year of the tartan turtle to honour the Highlands. People can dress up in turtle-y gear or themed gear. Live turtles and crafts are at the walks and local police and OPP generously donate their time to help too. Walks are free fun for the family.
This year walks will be held on June 1st in Thousand Islands, on June 8th in Haliburton, Bancroft, Peterborough, and Foxboro and June 15th in Bracebridge, Fenelon Fall and Lindsay.
Win prizes for the best posters, costumes, answering skill-testing questions during the walk. People can also become online fundraisers for the cause.
Visit www.turtlewalk.ca for more details. Help our slow friends come in first- Join a turtle walk!