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Turtles versus Traffic

Tys Theysmeyer, the head of conservation for the RBG, says, “It’s a big problem. The turtle population is going down and down. The road is built right through the centre of the travel route for the turtles.

Dundas turtles get help in their battle with traffic

Hamilton Spectator 


Barry Gray/The Hamilton...
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The thing about turtles is they don’t move too fast, but they go pretty far.
A would-be mother searching for a suitable place to lay eggs might travel more than a kilometre to find the perfect spot.
And that’s the problem along Cootes Drive as Royal Botanical Gardens workers erect fencing this week to try to reroute the slow-moving reptiles. The muddy ponds on the eastern side are perfect for hibernating, feeding and frolicking around. But when it comes to the business of continuing the species, well, that’s best done on the higher ground on the other side of the road where conditions are more sandy.
So each year countless turtles risk life and shell trying to make it across the busy road.
Over the years there have been various herculean efforts to save the turtles, most notably by the Dundas Turtle Watch which “identifies, monitors and rescues turtles at risk from traffic, and protects nests from predation wherever possible.”
Volunteers will actually stand by the side of the road and grab turtles who try to step out into the traffic.
But this year RBG workers are trying a different approach. They’re erecting a 100-metre wide turtle barrier beside Cootes Drive. They hope when turtles encounter the wall, they’ll turn right, and keep walking until they come upon Spencer Creek. From there they should take a left, go under the roadway bridge to get to the other side and therefore avoid having to go on the Cootes Drive.
At least that’s the theory.
“They’ll travel on land until they find suitable nesting habit,” says Kathryn Harrison, species at risk biologist for the RBG. “The problem is that they will try to cross roads and it is your adult, mature females that are ones that tend to cross.”
“Hopefully they’ll decide to go under the bridge and continue up the creek to look for good nesting areas.”
Turtles, depending on the breed, might not reach reproductive maturity until they are 15 years of age or more. And the ones that manage to make it to reproductive years tend not to have much reproductive success.
“So the loss of a mature adult female can actually have a dramatic impact on the population,” said Harrison.
Tys Theysmeyer, the head of conservation for the RBG, says, “It’s a big problem. The turtle population is going down and down. The road is built right through the centre of the travel route for the turtles.
“And they are not nearly as fast as a car.”
Last year workers experimented with small sections of fencing and they were pleased by the results. So they decided this year to try the effort on a bigger scale.
The reptiles of concern are mostly snapping turtles, but there are also Blanding’s turtles, Midland painted turtles and northern map turtles. Workers have even noticed rare stinkpot turtles.

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