A Look at the Rich Beauty of Our Wetlands and Why We Must Work to Preserve Them

Protecting Snapping Turtles and Other Wetland Species

By Jocelyn Baker, a professional in the field of conservation, living in Niagara, Ontario

Posted May 19th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

Wetlands are beautiful habitats where many unique species of animals can be found. We are all able to help protect and conserve these critically important ecosystems.

We are still fortunate enough to have some provincially significant wetlands in the Niagara River watershed. We need to work together as communities to protect and  preserve them for future generations.

In Ontario, most of our important wetlands have been mapped and are protected through various regulations. Wetlands that support critical habitat and species are called Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSW) and are protected from development and disturbance.

However, simply drawing a line around a wetland and saying it is “protected” is not enough to ensure the protection and survival of the species it contains.

Many wetland species, such as turtles, snakes, and frogs, are mobile and capable of traveling great distances to find food and suitable habitat for breeding. When wildlife moves between habitats, they become extremely vulnerable to threats that could impact their ability to survive (and thrive).

Everyone can play a part in helping to protect and conserve our treasured wetland species. One simple thing we can all do to help is to be mindful of the presence of wildlife on our roadways.

This snapping turtle, found in a precarious place, was gently returned to the nearby wetland where it makes its home.

Springtime, in particular, is a vulnerable time for many wetland species as they are on the move to find suitable nesting areas. Snapping turtles are of special concern in Ontario because they often lay their eggs in gravel along roadways in late May and early June and are at high risk of road mortality.

You can help snapping turtles and other turtles by safely removing them off the road if you see them. Many tips and tricks can be used to ensure you do this without harming yourself or the turtle, but here are a few of the basics:

Never lift a turtle up from the tail, as the tail is attached to the turtle’s spine.

To a human, this would be like being lifted up by your neck. Snapping turtles have long necks and can extend their mouth past their front legs.

You can safely pick up a snapping turtle by holding the very back of its shell behind its back legs. Large snapping turtles can be effectively maneuvered backwards across road surfaces by pulling on the back part of their shell.

Although slightly bother some to them, it can save their life without hurting them. Mats from your car can also be used to wedge under large turtles and move them to safety.

A Great Blue Heron, one of our wetlands’ many impressive inhabitants. Photo of heron and snapping turtle courtesy of Jocelyn Baker

Leave a nesting turtle alone while she is egg-laying in the sand, gravel, or even loose soil (she will appear very docile, almost as if she is asleep, while she is laying eggs).

Brightly coloured objects such as pylons, painted rocks (which can be a great craft for young kids) or safety vests can be placed beside a nesting turtle on the edge of the road to increase her visibility for other drivers. This will not bother her, as she will be focused on the job at-hand.

The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt a Pond YouTube video also offers a variety of useful and clever techniques for safely removing turtles from roads. Just remember, if you see a turtle on the road, remove it in the direction it was traveling and be mindful of traffic.

It is never worth putting your personal safety at risk.

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes.

Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier, and Jocelyn Baker). Visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair 

Jocelyn Baker

About Jocelyn Baker – Jocelyn has been working in watershed conservation at the local community level for the past 30 years.

She holds an Undergraduate Degree water resource management and recently completed a Master’s Degree in Sustainability Science.

Jocelyn’s early career focus was water quality improvement through the implementation of stewardship Best Management Practices, evolving into Great Lakes remediation and restoration project management.

In addition to her current work as a researcher at Brock University, Jocelyn is a part-time instructor at Niagara College in the School of Environmental Studies. Currently, Jocelyn is the Canadian Co-Chair of the Niagara River Bi-national Ramsar Designation Steering Committee, working to secure a wetlands of international importance designation for the Niagara River.

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

 “A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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