It’s a good year for turtle hatchlings in our region. Conservation group Turtle Guardians has rescued, incubated, and released more than 5,000 young turtles so far this year.
Organization founder Leora Berman says they saved just over 7,500 eggs from roughly 350 nests this summer, with the remaining hatchlings to be released into the wild over the next two weeks. Despite having less staff this year than in others, Berman says the program has been a great success.
“I think we did really well this year,” says Berman. “The public really rallied, and we fielded more than 900 phone calls and messages to access nests that were in jeopardy or really threatened areas like roadsides. [For] the hatchout, we’ve done really well. We have a 95 per cent success rate with our incubators.”
Berman says this year’s success is likely because more people are becoming aware of rescue-and-release programs across Ontario. She says Southern Ontario has lost between 50 and 70 per cent of its turtle population in recent years, so it’s important to give those left a fighting chance.
“If we didn’t do this work, less than 0.06 per cent would survive,” says Berman. “Where humans live, more than 80 per cent of nests are predated. Raccoons, foxes, and skunks do much better where we live, so there’s more of them eating more eggs. Once we do this work, the success rate jumps to about 0.24 per cent. So it’s exponentially better, but it’s still hard for turtles to replace themselves, even with our help.”
According to Berman, the newly released younglings will spend the first bit of their lives imprinting on their nesting sites and forming spacial memories that they will use for the rest of their lives. She says the turtles are “nice and chubby” from soaking up the yolks of their eggs and will soon look for a comfortable place to burrow and hibernate for the winter.
Berman says residents can help those efforts by reporting turtle sightings, watching out for them on roads, and helping them get where they’re going. Through the winter, people can also sign up for Turtle Guardians’ Wetland Watchers program to keep an eye out for them in frozen bodies of water.
She adds she’s seen some amazing leadership from the community when it comes to helping turtles, whether that’s by making changes to lake communities, patrolling roads, or reaching out to municipalities. “Just a big thanks to all those amazing common people we work with all the time,” Berman says.