South Ontario has the highest density of roads in Canada. The marshy area is also home to eight native species of turtle— seven of which are listed as ‘at risk’ by the World Wildlife Fund. Consequently, every year thousands of reptiles venture out onto the highway and are injured or killed by passing cars.
VICE interviewed Dr. Sue Carstairs from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough, South Ontario. Dr. Carstairs said the centre is currently housing nearly a thousand turtles (90% vehicle injuries) awaiting recovery and re-release into the wild. Saving the lives of these turtles is crucial since some species can’t reproduce until they are more than 20 years old.
Dr. Carstairs explained the centre has seen a huge spike in patients this year, given a wave of cool temperatures that have been ideal for the turtles to come out and move around in the open. The majority come into the centre with broken shells, which Dr. Carstairs and associates repair by inserting an orthopedic wire, which holds the shell together until it can regenerate. Because turtles are cold-blooded, their bodies take longer to heal.
There may be hope. Dr. Carstairs said a new trend in building ‘eco passages’ underneath roads provides turtles with a safe route to cross busy highways. A study published earlier this year in Wildlife Society Bulletin, “The true cost of partial fencing: Evaluating strategies to reduce reptile road mortality” showed the success of seven culverts and full fencing built for one Ontario causeway, estimating 89% fewer turtles entered the road.
Another problem facing Ontario turtles is habitat destruction caused by urban development. Currently, the centre was given 700 eggs that were under threat from a pavement development. The eggs are kept safe and warm in the centre, waiting to hatch. When the babies are big enough, they will be released into the marshlands.
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