A conservation program on the Alderville First Nation is hoping to save one of nature’s most vulnerable creatures, the turtle.
“I love turtles, they’re perfect species a perfect animal as a steward for conservation,” said Kassie McKeown.
“They clean the water they inhabit, they’re part of a larger ecosystem and they’re an indication of a healthy ecosystem.”
McKeown, an ecological field technician at the Black Oaks Savanna in Alderville, said southern Ontario is a hot spot for turtles but the numbers are on serious decline.
“Less than one per cent of 100 babies will reach adulthood,” said Kassie McKeown. “If they survive the nesting season.”
(Kassie McKeown at the Black Oak Savanna where a program to save several species of turtles in running. Photo: Annette Francis/APTN)
Alderville is home to several of the eight species of turtle in Ontario – plus rare tallgrass.
According to the Toronto Zoo, seven of the eight species are considered species at risk.
(Broken shells means predators have been at the nest. Photo: Annette Francis/APTN)
Predators, lack of habitat and being killed on Ontario’s roads account for the decline in numbers.
“We have a lot of snapping turtles, a lot of Painted turtles, Map turtles, you might find the odd Blanding’s turtles, and I found an Eastern Musk turtle here too,” she said.
To help save them, every nesting season for the past few years, which usually begins in June, the Black Oaks Savanna has been placing turtle nesting boxes around the waterways, and gravel roads.
“It prevents predators, such as raccoons, coyotes, or skunks from being able to dig up the nest and eat up the eggs, which is one of the main reasons why the nests don’t survive, besides being on the side of roads,” said McKeown.
(Radek Odolczyk and Kassie McKeown loading turtle nesting boxes onto the back of their truck. Photo: Annette Francis/APTN)
For colleague, Cheyenne Blaker, it’s been a rewarding experience.
“Just this past week, I was able to see turtles emerging and crossing the road for the first time, which was really neat,” she said.
“Unfortunately there was a lot of mortality, but my coworker and I were able to save three of those turtles which really gives them a head start to life.”
McKeown said they plan to expand the initiative next year, by making another habitat nesting area, building more boxes for community members to use on their own properties.