Turtles?…What is all the fuss about!                                 

We have all seen “I Brake for Turtles” bumper stickers, or hand painted “Watch 4 Turtles” signs posted on rural post box posts, or news reports of the City of Kingston approving $500, 000 for turtle protection or the recent news about the Thousand Islands region including Thousand Islands National Park being declared an Important Amphibian and Reptile Area (IMPARA) by the Canadian Herpetological Society (CHS)1.  So, what is with turtles?

Photo by Dave McWilliam

Five of the 8 turtle species in Ontario listed as species at risk reside in part in the Thousand Islands, thus there is much to be done to prevent turtles from disappearing from our ecosystems. The Blanding’s, Northern Map, Spiny Softshell, Spotted, and Eastern Musk (aka: Stinkpot) are seen as species-at-risk, with the Snapping, Painted, and the Wood rounding out the list.

Given that it takes a decade or two before a turtle reaches breeding age, and that less than 1% of turtle eggs make it to adulthood, saving even a single turtle can make a difference.

What you can do to improve turtle habitat… at home or at the cottage!

Since the 1800’s, more than seventy-two per cent of Ontario wetland habitats have been drained for various reasons. Turtles as nature’s caretakers have the responsibility of keeping wetlands healthy and clean. They do this by making sure that any insects or small animals that die are eaten and the water is not contaminated. Although most turtles are omnivores, some like the snapping turtle will eat small fish, frogs and even ducklings as well.

This major threat to turtle populations and habitat is often due to shoreline alteration and development. While these are prime locations for the summer retreats, they are also the home and nesting areas of many turtles, which are very sensitive to these shoreline alterations.

As a waterfront home or cottage owner, there are many things you can do to improve turtle habitat on your property. It is important to keep your shoreline as natural as possible. If there have already been alterations of the natural shoreline you can rehabilitate these unnatural shorelines by removing things like retaining walls and riprap to make them suitable for turtles once again, and this will discourage Canada Geese as well.

In keeping with this simple, “go natural” philosophy, it is very important to foster existing native shrubs and trees or replant those removed. Also, the maintenance of an un-mowed strip of native vegetation 10 meters ( 30 feet) deep along the shoreline assists with both erosion and species habitat. The mechanical removal of the invasive Phragmites australis (European Common Reed) perennial grass that is spreading rapidly throughout Ontario is an excellent activity as it chokes out native vegetation and depletes natural habitat.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on Turtle Spas, Turtle Nest Protectors, and Phragmites control.

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