It was an exciting moment for about a dozen children from a nearby nature camp as they released snapping and painted turtle hatchlings into their natural environment.
It’s part of a pilot project organized by 1000 Islands National Park staff under the parks reptile and amphibian recovery and education program also called R.A.R.E.
R.A.R.E. isn’t new but this is the first time park staff have harvested turtle eggs and hatched them at an incubator site in the park.
This year 247 snapping turtle and painted turtle eggs have been hatched or are in the process of hatching at the site.
The parks ecologist Josh Van Wieren says the work on the pilot project began several years ago.
“Because the park’s so small and fragmented we do have some municipal roads that go through and some of the turtles that live in the park have been laying eggs on the road shoulders.
The sandy gravel road shoulders are attractive to the turtles because they are easy for them to dig in and lay their eggs.
Van Wieren says mature egg laying turtles are often killed by vehicles while trying to get to the road shoulders.
The parks ecologist says they set up camera’s and found even clutches of eggs that were successfully laid on the road shoulders were destroyed by predators.
“Every single one of the nests that we had a camera on were dug up within 24 hours so we were getting no hatchlings coming out of those nests at all.”
Just one reason along with loss of habitat that every single species of turtle in the province is on the Ontario species at risk list.
There are 8 native Ontario turtle species and 5 of them can be found in the 1000 Islands National Park.
52 snapping turtle hatchlings have been released and school aged children are helping another 80 today.
Which ties into the second part of the pilot project education.
Van Wieren says raising awareness with the next generation is part of that education and so is getting help from local residents.
One way of reducing road mortality is picking up any turtles on the road and helping them across says Van Wieren.
“You always want to help them in the direction they were heading and if it’s a snapping turtle grab the shell at the back on either side of the tail.”
A shovel to pick the turtle up is an option.
Van Wieren also encourages people that find an injured turtle to contact local rescues like Sandy Pines in Napanee or Rideau Valley in Ottawa.