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As turtle injuries surge, Ontario drivers urged to slow down during nesting season

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Ontario drivers urged to slow down during turtle nesting season
WATCH: It is nesting season for turtles in Ontario and officials at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough are asking motorists to slow down and keep their eyes out. Tricia Mason has more. – Jun 17, 2024

Drivers in Ontario are urged to be cognizant and slow down for cold-blooded commuters as turtle nesting season is underway.

The advisory comes from officials at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough which is reporting a spike in injured turtles arriving to their care this spring.

“We so far have taken in 1,150 patient turtles just in 2024,” said Lisa Browning, education coordinator at the centre which rehabilitates and treats injured turtles and releases them back into the wild.

“Last week was our busiest week ever. We had a period of 24 hours where we got in 100 turtles in a day.”

Browning says over half of the turtles are adult females searching for spots to lay eggs in June at the height of nesting season. The majority of the injured turtles were the result of being struck by a vehicle on roadways.

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“About 90 per cent of our patients were hit by a car on the road,” she said.

Among them, a turtle at the centre named “Andrea” bearing what Brown says are injuries to its shell.

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“Andrea did lose her right eye and her left eye was blinded so she has suffered a lot of head drama when she was hit by the car.”

The centre reports less than one per cent of turtle eggs make it to adulthood.  All eight species of Ontario turtles are currently listed as a species at risk, according to the province.

Browning says motorists need to be cautious if they see a turtle on the road, but not swerve the vehicle or attempt to brake suddenly.

If an uninjured turtle is found on a roadway, the centre advises motorists to stop and gently move the turtle in the direction it is going — place your hands or an item such as a shovel or board behind the creature.

Browning says to not handle the turtle excessively.

Most turtles can be picked up carefully with two hands — but keep a safe distance from its head, especially for a snapping turtle. Place the dominant hand underneath the animal from under its tail like picking up a tray or a pizza box. Stabilize the tail with your non-dominant hand. Hold the turtle away from your body.

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The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre shows how to properly pick up a snapping turtle.
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre shows how to properly pick up a snapping turtle.

People are reminded to wash their hands after handling a turtle since they carry bacteria.

The conservation centre says the increase in turtle sightings and incidents on the roads is because 70 per cent of southern Ontario’s wetlands have been drained or converted for other uses. Wetlands that remain are often fragmented by roads.

“Turtles are really the heart of our wetlands, they are keeping the systems going and without them they would collapse,” said Browning. “They are very important to keep around.”

If you find an injured turtle, the centre advises to place it in n a well-ventilated plastic container with a secure lid and no water, and to call the centre at 705-741-5000.

For more information, visit the centre’s website.

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