By Nate Smelle
Published May 10 2018
For more than a decade The Land Between has been working to protect turtles in Ontario.
Throughout this time as one of the organization’s co-founders Leora Berman has been actively involved in turtle conservation.
While conducting an annual roadside count of turtles killed on roads last year she said they came across an average of more than one turtle killed for every kilometre of highway they surveyed.
This was 10 times more than the average number of turtles killed on the roads in years past she said.
Backing up their evidence Berman said was the fact that the Ontario Turtle Trauma Centre also observed a record number of injured turtles brought in for treatment in 2017.
She said a drastic increase in the mortality rate such as this could be devastating to the survival of turtle populations over the long term.
The numbers were so shocking the Land Between and the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (home of the trauma centre) declared a state of emergency for Ontario’s turtles.
In response to the crisis Berman reached out to several organizations engaged in turtle conservation throughout the province so they could work together to protect these species-at-risk from going extinct.
Joining forces along with The Land Between and the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre are Ontario Nature The Toronto Zoo Scales Nature Park EcoKare International Trillium Lakelands District School Board and Curve Lake First Nation Cultural Centre. From this collaboration the Turtle Guardian program was born.
On May 26 Berman said Turtle Guardians will be launching their inaugural Turtle Walks campaign. Haliburton will be hosting its walk on Saturday June 2 from 10 a.m. to noon.
“These walks are to raise funding but also to raise awareness and to give kids and people hope” said Berman.
“They are community actions and bring people together for a common cause. This is our first year and we hope and anticipate that they will become annual events and events that eventually span all of Ontario.”
Berman said the walks have been carefully planned to take place during the flowering moon – the most active time for turtle nesting in central Ontario.
Turtle Walkers register and raise pledges to support what Turtle Guardians have labelled their Tunnel and Trauma Campaign. Half the funds raised will go to support the turtle trauma centre with the other half going toward the installation of turtle tunnels – fencing to direct turtles under roads.
Recognizing that The Land Between bioregion from the Ottawa Valley to the Georgian Bay coast is home to more than one-third of all of Ontario’s turtles Berman said people in this area can make a huge difference when it comes to helping turtles.
“We live in turtle country so if we’re going to save these imperiled species then this is the place to do it” she said.
“If there is hope to save these species it is here; and this hope is well placed in the hands of our kids – our next generations.”
Berman said she had her first experience in turtle conservation at just 16 years old. While driving home from work late one night she said she noticed the largest snapping turtle she had and has ever seen crossing the road in front of her.
Pulling over to help it reach its destination a police officer who happened to be passing by joined her in assisting the turtle across the highway. Driving the same stretch of highway two weeks later Berman noticed that the municipality had put up its first turtle crossing sign where she had the close encounter. Ever since this experience she has felt a kinship with turtles.
“Turtles are the most innocent of creatures” Berman said.
“When you see them killed on the road it’s a very painful thing to see. They have a very important role in their ecosystem so when one disappears it affects everything else. For instance snapping turtles are like vacuums in their habitat eating dead fish and cleaning up the water.”
One of the most fascinating things about turtles Berman said is that they can live for more than 100 years. Some research she said even suggests they have the potential to live for more than 400 years. Although turtles’ long lifespan is impressive Berman pointed out that it takes between 30 and 80 years of laying eggs for a turtle to replace itself with one new turtle. This is another reason why it has such an impact on their population when a turtle is killed or removed from its habitat she explained.
The Turtle Walks initiative aims to improve turtles’ chances of survival by educating and engaging children youth and people of all ages with turtle awareness.
Turtle Walks are being held in Peterborough Bancroft and Fenelon Falls on May 26; and in Bracebridge and Haliburton on June 2. They will take place on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. until noon and are two kilometres long. To make a donation register as a Turtle Walker or for more information on how to get involved visit www.turtlewalk.ca; or contact Leora Berman at 705-457-4838.