Turtle monitors train for final year of study

By Jenn Watt

April 26 2016

A few wary glances shot across the audience as Titanic the snapping turtle was hoisted before the crowd.

A grand finale of sorts the tire-size reptile was at the Fish Hatchery Thursday April 14 to show turtle monitors for the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust how to move the creatures across the road safely and demonstrate the (relative) easiest way to measure their shells.

It wasn’t long before the uneasy glances turned to rapt wonderment as Kelsey Crawford of Scales Nature Park dispelled some common misconceptions about snapping turtles and demonstrated some simple ways to avoid getting bitten.

(Among them: snapping turtles don’t go after your toes when you swim; their bite won’t take your fingers off; they are aggressive because they are scared not ferocious.)

But while Titanic was the most mesmerizing guest at the event plenty of important information was exchanged during the evening which was meant to get volunteers up to speed on how the final year of the turtle monitoring project in Haliburton County will play out.

“Our landscape is being fragmented all the time … with development but also with roads” said Paul Heaven the biologist who has designed and supervised the study.

Those roads often cut right through wildlife habitat and in the case of turtles that presents a problem as the females regularly lay their eggs in the soft soil of the road shoulders.

“Every spring we see lots of roadkill lots of dead turtles all over the place. The roads aren’t just targeting turtles in general they’re actually targeting the adult female the very ones that are laying the eggs on our landscape” he said.

The land trust has embarked on the Turtle Mitigation Project which includes one test site and two control sites. The test site on Gelert Road has a culvert underpass and halved polyethylene pipe to funnel the creatures to the safest way across the road.

For the last two years volunteers and project staff have been observing each of the three sites carefully cataloguing the turtles as they crossed the road and so far results are promising.

It appears that at the test site turtles are indeed using the culvert with far fewer observed on the road.

During the months of May and June the land trust volunteers will be back at it again monitoring the roads seven hours a day in the morning and evening – prime turtle crossing time.

Volunteers were introduced to tools of the trade: calipers for measuring the turtle shells bright vests for walking along the road GPS units and compasses. They were told to dress for the rain heat and bugs that would inevitably arrive making their three-and-a-half hour shifts trying at times.

But none of the obstacles seemed to faze the group who eagerly embraced the technology and the turtles.

The land trust is still looking for volunteers and can provide training. If you’re interested give them a call or email: 705-457-3700 or admin@haliburtonlandtrust.ca.