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Shell-ebrating a Successful Nesting Season

September 23, 2021

By: Emily Sharma, Communications Intern, Royal Botanical Gardens

Back in June, we asked you to be on the lookout for our native turtles who were making their way inland to lay their eggs.  And wow, did you answer the call!

Over 80 individual reports of turtles on land or nesting were submitted across RBG’s properties. A strong team of two, Species at Risk (SAR) Biologist Sarah and SAR Assistant Brittany hustled from site to site, protecting a total of 59 turtle nests and recovering even more to be incubated back at RBG.

From busy roads to predators, nesting season is an extremely vulnerable time for female turtles and their hatchlings. Knowing the whereabouts of these nests is vital to helping RBG work to recover these at-risk species as part of the Site-Specific Recovery Plan. This year, almost 90% of nests that RBG responded to were discovered by people outside of the SAR team!

Snapping Turtle Nest
Snapping Turtle Nest
volunteers holding a Midland Painted turtle hatchling
Midland Painted Turtle hatchling

It’s no exaggeration to say that this scale of work would be impossible to achieve without the tremendous efforts of dedicated volunteers, visitors and staff. There is always more work to be done, but let’s take a moment to shell-ebrate some of the wins from this season!

Big Year for Blanding’s

A big highlight from this year is the recovery of 24 Blanding’s Turtle hatchlings! The most threatened of the four turtle species found on RBG lands, Blanding’s are endangered, and finding their nests proved to be quite a feat.

During nesting season, SAR staff had an amazing group of volunteers accompany them during nighttime nest tracking efforts. Seneca, known to be a particularly stubborn Blanding’s Turtle, is an expert at diversions and laying her nest in places they cannot find. With the help of these volunteers, staff were able to find and collect her nest for the first time in 6 years!

two Blanding’s Turtle hatchlings
Blanding’s Turtle hatchlings
Adult Blanding's Turtle
Adult Blanding's Turtle

Another surprise was a Blanding’s Turtle nest discovered in one of our gardens! The SAR team was called in when visitors and volunteers found three hatchlings wandering the pathway. They searched the area and retrieved another that had fallen down a storm drain. Over the next few days more appeared, for a total of seven hatchlings. Without the keen eyes of everyone involved we never have known this nest existed!  

Staff retrieving Blanding’s hatchling from storm drain in the Gardens
Staff retrieving Blanding’s hatchling from storm drain in the Gardens

Due to their risk status, these hatchlings were not immediately returned to the wetlands like our other turtle species. Instead, all 24 hatchlings were delivered to Scales Nature Park in Orillia, a fully licensed facility where they will complete a two-year “head start” program. This means the hatchlings can safely develop at the facility so they can return to RBG’s wetlands larger, stronger and less susceptible to predation.

Regulations state that hatchlings must be returned to the nearest body of water from where their nest was recovered. As Seneca is the only female Blanding’s who lays her eggs closest to the marsh, her clutch will be the first Blanding’s hatchlings to be released in Cootes Paradise since 2015!

1,200 Turtles Released

Nests that could not be protected were brought back to RBG to be incubated. All of the eggs recovered produced an amazing 1,200 turtle hatchlings, including Snapping Turtles, Northern Map Turtles and Midland Painted Turtles.

Once hatched, the SAR team brings the turtles back to be released into the wetlands. A unique event, media are often invited to one of our releases, and this year was no different. The last release was held earlier this month, with six tiny Painted Turtles as the stars of the show when they were released near Valley Inn.

Painted Turtle hatchlings in Tupperware
The Painted Turtle siblings before their release
Midland Painted turtle hatchling taking in their new surroundings.
Midland Painted Turtle hatchling taking in their new surroundings.

As Sarah explained during the event, incubating turtles gets them past the vulnerable egg stage, when they are often a snack for predators or destroyed by human activity. But life as a hatchling isn’t easy, with very few surviving to reproductive age due to predation, lack of habitat, pollution and road mortality.

Sarah holding a juvenile painted turtle
As if to underline Sarah’s statement, a vehicle passing the crowd narrowly missed a four-year-old turtle crossing the road. Thankfully the turtle was not injured, but it goes to show how we can directly affect the decline of our at-risk species.

How you can help

  1. Everything we do has an impact. This program would not work without the support of amazing community members, and there are many ways you can help save our turtles!
  2. While hatchling season is winding down, a few hatchlings may still be emerging from their nests. If you spot any hatchlings on land within RBG’s gardens or nature sanctuaries, please promptly let a staff member know.
  3. Take only photos, leave only footprints — turtle hatchlings and other wildlife can be very cute, but it’s important to give them space and leave them in their natural habitat. All of our turtle species are at-risk, and removing even one has a big impact on the local population.
  4. Avoid feeding wildlife on RBG trails. Dropped food attracts more predators to ground nests. Raccoons, skunks and even chipmunks will eat turtle and bird eggs.

Learn more about RBG’s turtle recovery efforts and how you can help:

RBG Conservation Projects: Turtles 

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