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Cootes Drive: "High Mortality Area"

Somethings all Restore Cootes supporters should know:

"Cootes Drive is especially dangerous [for wildlife] because the roadway is between two wetland areas."

"This area has been identified as a high mortality area," she said."

"So far this year, 14 adults [snapping turtles] were killed trying to cross the road."

The historical context that placed Cootes Drive in the middle of an environmentally sensitive biodiversity hotspot in 1936-37 can be seen in retrospect as a huge mistake, and one that the marsh inhabitants pay for daily with their lives.

The road certainly wasn't needed in '37, and it probably isn't really needed today: Restore Cootes wants you to think of life without Cootes Drive: it becomes a trade off of a couple minutes extra driving for cars and trucks in exchange for protecting endangered species and rehabilitating one of the most important marsh habitats on Lake Ontario.

Here's the full text from the Hamilton Spectator article on the subject of road mortality for snapping turtles and efforts to rescue the un-hatched babies from dead moms:

Baby turtles incubated at Royal Botanical Gardens released

By Carmela Fragomeni, Hamilton Spectator, August 20, 2013

Three hatchlings, the only survivors of 30 eggs recovered from a road-killed momma snapping turtle, have made it into the wild thanks to a new incubator at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The trio — still too young for their gender to be determined, according to RBG staff — was carried to President's Pond on RBG land behind McMaster University in a plastic container by RBG summer student Kasey McKenzie on Monday. She placed them one by one into the muddy swamp at the pond's edge.

Within seconds, the week-old siblings — still sporting the egg tooth on top of their beaks for cracking through the shell — were barely visible in the muddy Cootes Paradise marshland. When they hatched, they were about the size of a quarter.

"We wish them our best," said RBG biologist Kathryn Harrison, while helping to release them. "They blend in really well, as you can see."

Just three days earlier, the RBG released another 68 hatchlings in two other ponds. The release location was close to wherever they were found — near Grindstone Creek or in an RBG garden.

"Don't they blend in so well?" asked Dundas Turtle Watch's Catherine Shimmell, referring to the three most recently freed hatchlings. She was delighted at the abundance of "duck weed" — green, confetti-looking aquatic plants that float on or near the top of the water and that "these little guys can feed on."

Shimmell was instrumental in their rescue, calling in the RBG when she and her Dundas Turtle Watch partner found the dead turtle and some of the ping-pong-ball-shaped eggs lying next her.

The hatchling release was a silver lining to the otherwise gruesome discovery the pair made at 6 a.m. on June 12 on the Cootes Drive median at Olympic Drive during their regular turtle patrol.

"It was awful to see," she said.

Shimmell is among the 25 to 30 Dundas Turtle Watch volunteers who don bright safety vests and patrol the Cootes Drive area from 6 to 8:30 every morning and again in the late afternoon. Sometimes drivers flag them down to tell them of a turtle spotted up the road. Sometimes the volunteers stop traffic for the little reptiles and many times "we help them cross the road."

It takes some manoeuvring to get the turtles, snapping all the while, onto a tarp and to carry them across, but you can tell from Shimmell's dedication and enthusiasm that it's all worth it to her.

"I've liked turtles from when I was a kid … I have two (from the Southern U.S.) at home, about 23 years old and the size of a dinner plate, that I got from a pet store."
Dundas Turtle Watch, founded by Joanna Chapman about five years ago, has rescued about 20 turtles so far this year, Shimmell said.

Whether the latest babies released make it or not is anybody's guess.

"The chances of survival are very low," said Harrison. "They are susceptible to predators and can be eaten by fish or herons."

But the RBG's ability to hatch close to 150 of them this year with its new $600 incubator "will up the rate of survival," she said.

The hatching process takes about 60 days.

Snapping turtles are a species of special concern, because they face several threats — from predators, a high mortality rate in their young and, of course, road traffic, Shimmell said.

Cootes Drive is especially dangerous because the roadway is between two wetland areas.

"This area has been identified as a high mortality area," she said.

So far this year, 14 adults were killed trying to cross the road.

It takes 15 years for a snapping turtle to be mature enough to be able to breed, and they can live for 50 or 60 years, Harrison said.

The orphaned hatchlings, however, would never have known their mother in the wild had she survived because the eggs are abandoned as soon as the female lays them, she explained. "They have to figure it out pretty quick."


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