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Ecologists try to save western painted turtles in B.C.

On the banks of Burnaby Lake lie newly-hatched western painted turtles that are trying to lay low some six inches under the sand.

It should be a safe place for them to ride out the winter, but it isn’t this year just as it wasn’t last year.

“There was a train derailment last year in early 2014 and this beach had to be rebuilt but we’re still finding some issues as a result of the coal spill,” said Deanna MacTavish of the Coasted Painted Turtle Project.

They dug up the hatchlings in 2014 before heavy equipment was brought in to clean up the mess. Now it’s happening again because the coal, which had been stored with toxic heavy metals, has contaminated the beach.

Did you know: These 5 species could one day disappear from across Canada

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“In about a few months we’re going to rebuild this whole beach once again with brand new sand and they’re going to take away this old contaminated sand. So we have to get the juveniles out of the beach before the heavy equipment rolls in,” said MacTavish.

The western painted turtle is the only fresh-water turtle species that is native to B.C. At two weeks old they are totally defenceless; their shells aren’t even hard yet.

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MacTavish and her colleagues will rear the western painted turtles–which are endangered along B.C’s coast–over the winter in the hopes that they grow large enough to evade their largest predator, the American bullfrog.

“They’re so at risk here and they’re very unique to our habitat,” said Aimee Mitchell of the Coastal Painted Turtle Project.

“I’d really like to see them get off the endangered species list and just be something where people can come to a lake or a pond and actually see native turtles,” said MacTavish.

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