Hatching a Turtle Recovery Plan

Turtles are in serious trouble.

All eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are listed as Species At-Risk. This makes turtles one of the most endangered groups of wildlife in Canada. Turtles face many threats, including:

  • Habitat loss
  • Being hit by cars and trucks on roads
  • High rates of nest predation

In 2018, the Canadian Wildlife Federation began collecting and incubating Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle eggs in eastern Ontario to help turtle populations. The eggs are carefully collected from wild nests and incubated at CWF headquarters. The hatchlings of each nest are then released at the wetland closest to the nest site.

Last year we collected over 400 eggs. More than 95 per cent of the fertilized eggs hatched out, allowing us to release almost 400 hatchlings. This year, the CWF Turtle Team acquired a second incubator that allowed us to collect and incubate more eggs. After many late nights of hard work, the Turtle Team collected over 500 Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle eggs.

Why is incubating eggs so beneficial to turtle populations?

CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator.
CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator
  • In many areas, nest predators such as raccoons are very abundant. Raccoons have adapted to human ways and increased their populations. It is common for raccoons to destroy more than half of turtle nests – in some areas, they may take 80 per cent or more of nests. That is a lot of lost reproduction.
  • If it is a cool and wet summer, there may not be enough time for the eggs to hatch before fall arrives. In central and eastern Ontario, turtle eggs may only hatch in years when temperatures are average or above average.
  • Some nests along roadsides will be missed by predators, but these nests still face other risks. Regular maintenance along roadsides can include grading the road shoulder, which can accidentally dig up nests. And in some areas, roadsides are sprayed with herbicides to control unwanted plants, which can also affect nests.
  • The eggs that do hatch are still not necessarily safe. Hatchlings often emerge from the nest in late summer or early fall. If the nest is on the roadside, hatchlings may disperse onto the road, only to be run over during their first day out of the nest.
  • Hatchlings that avoid being run over must still find their way to water. Some roadside nests are only a few metres from water, making the trek fairly easy for the hatchlings. Other roadside nests we’ve found have been more than 100 metres from water. This is a huge distance for toonie-sized hatchlings to travel – assuming they go in the right direction!

Collecting and incubating the eggs avoids these and other threats. The eggs are protected from nest predators such as raccoons. The temperature and humidity are controlled so the eggs hatch out on time. The hatchlings can avoid being run over by cars and making the lengthy trek to water.

snapping baby turtle

The vast majority of turtle eggs never result in hatchlings entering the wetland. By incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings at the nearest wetland to the nest, we are giving turtle reproduction a huge boost. The hatchlings still face many threats after being released, but they will have overcome some of the biggest hurdles in a turtle’s life.

Learn more about how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca

My Answer to the Age-Old Question

“So, what do you do?”

My barber asked me this common enough question a few weeks ago. In the spirit of small talk, I boiled it down to the most basic idea of what I’m doing for the summer; I look for turtles.

He gave me a look, a chuckle, and a feeling that he didn’t take it seriously. I couldn’t blame him. It sounds too silly and whimsical to be actual work, and some of the time it is.

But I’ll explain it a little better for you than I did for the barber.

Turtle Team

Chris crossing a creek

I am one of the four proud members of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Turtle Team, led by David Seburn, CWF’s Freshwater Turtle Specialist. Our work is focused on the conservation of Canada’s threatened turtle populations.

This involves public outreach and education, reducing risks to vulnerable populations through:

Looking for Turtles

Looking for turtles in the wetland

The wetland surveys are carried out on Crown land or the private properties of landowners who are interested in turtle conservation. Once we arrive at the wetlands, we strap on our wading boots, don our bug nets, sling our binoculars around our necks and wade out in search of turtles.

Our focus is the Threatened Blanding’s Turtle. Our goal is to protect the precious habitat in which these turtles are found. To do this, we need to find a Blanding’s Turtle, take a photo of it and record where we found it. At this point, the wetland is officially protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Easy enough, right?

Well, what if I told you that endangered is usually synonymous with rare and hard to find. Also, wetlands are usually associated with biting insects – a lot of them.

Some days we spend six hours waist-deep in muddy water surrounded by legions of blackflies and mosquitos — all trying to get a bite out of us. The sun is beating down on our heads, but there’s no way of cooling off because if we remove any clothing at all, we just provide more banquet for the bugs to munch.

And that’s not to mention the ticks. It’s been a few weeks and one of us has already been bitten by a Deer Tick, which can transmit Lyme Disease (thankfully she was fine – always immediately seek medical treatment if you have been bitten by a tick!).

© David Seburn | CWF Staff
One of two Blanding’s Turtles that we found during an outing on May 10.

Even after all of that, many times we don’t actually find a Blanding’s Turtle. It can be exhausting and extremely frustrating work, especially when you know they’re likely there, we just can’t find them. But when you do find one of these remarkable creatures, the effort is completely worth it.

The Journey’s Not That Bad, Either

Tiptoe-ing through the cattailsThe places we go to survey are undeniably beautiful, ancient and teeming with a variety of plant and animal life.

I’ve seen a community of nesting Great Blue Herons, porcupines climbing trees, a family of coyotes, a ball of mating snakes, prehistoric-looking snapping turtles the size of manhole covers, and even multi-storied beaver dams! These places are magical, diverse and incredibly important, which makes the stakes for us to find Blanding’s Turtles and protect these ecosystems even higher. Upwards of 70 per cent of southern Ontario’s wetlands have already been lost.

Although most people have a romanticized view of fieldwork, at times it can be incredibly stressful, labour intensive and uncomfortable. It’s tough and dirty work. But it is paramount to turtle conservation, and someone’s got to do it. This summer it got to be me.

upload observations to inaturalist.ca
upload observations to inaturalist.ca

You can help too! If you see a Blanding’s Turtle please report it on iNaturalist.ca. You can find out more about our turtle work at HelpTheTurtles.ca.

Hooked a Turtle? Here’s How to Help…

Many people enjoy spending a day fishing on the lake.

It’s a great way to get outside and possibly bring home a fish for supper. Unfortunately, unwanted animals, such as turtles, sometimes take an interest in the hook at the end of the fishing line.

Many freshwater turtles are scavengers, but they also take live prey, which means they can get caught on baited fishing hooks or lures. Faced with a large and unhappy Snapping Turtle hooked on the line, many anglers simply cut the fishing line so the hook remains in the turtle. Some hooks get caught in the turtle’s mouth, which can make feeding difficult. Other hooks are swallowed and get lodged in the turtle’s throat or even its stomach, which can be fatal.

How many turtles get caught on fishing hooks?

We don’t really know, but a few studies suggest the issue is widespread and relatively common. A study from Tennessee found that at one site more than 30 per cent of the adult female Snapping Turtles had swallowed fishing hooks. Of course, the percentage of turtles that get hooked will vary from lake to lake, depending on the number of people fishing.

Which turtles are most likely to get caught on fishing hooks?

Spiny Softshell caught on a fishing hook © Scott Gillingwater
Spiny Softshell caught on a fishing hook © Scott Gillingwater

Any turtle that occurs in commonly fished waters could potentially get hooked, but Snapping Turtles are typically hooked most often, likely because of their size, widespread nature and feeding behaviour. Other Canadian species known to get caught on fishing hooks include the Northern Map Turtle, Painted Turtle, Spiny Softshell and Wood Turtle.

Why is a turtle getting hooked an issue?

Getting caught on fishing hooks is dangerous for turtles for three reasons.

  1. It causes needless suffering, which we should try to reduce or prevent.
  2. All eight species of freshwater turtles in Canada are now listed as Species At-Risk. Turtles need all the help they can get!
  3. Even a small increase in turtle mortalities each year can cause population decline. Research suggests that deaths from fishing hooks alone can cause turtle populations to decline in some areas.

What do I do if I hook a turtle?!

A number of steps can be taken to help reduce the impact of fishing hooks on turtles.

  • Consider using barbless hooks when fishing in areas with large turtle populations. Barbless hooks are easier to remove if a turtle is caught.
  • Try to remove a fishing hook that gets snagged on vegetation, rather than just cutting the line and abandoning the hook.
  • Distribute our guide to helping hooked turtles to popular fishing areas.
X-ray of Spiny Softshell showing a swallowed fishing hook w arrow © Scott Gillingwater
X-ray of Spiny Softshell showing a swallowed fishing hook with arrow © Scott Gillingwater

If you do hook a turtle while fishing, here are some ways to help.

  • Reel the turtle in slowly and gently to prevent the hook from digging in deeper.
  • Never cut your line and release the hooked turtle. Leaving a hook embedded in a turtle can lead to its death.
  • Use a net or grab the back end of the turtle’s shell to lift it out of the water. To prevent further injury, don’t lift the turtle by the fishing line or tail.
  • Be cautious. Turtles may bite or scratch to protect themselves. Be extra careful with Snapping and Spiny Softshell Turtles as they have long, flexible necks and a powerful bite.
  • If the hook is difficult to remove, caught in the mouth or has been swallowed, medical care is required.

If you are in Ontario, call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at 705.741.5000. They will provide medical care at no charge and have volunteers to assist with transportation from anywhere in Ontario.

Download this easy-to-follow guide on what to do when you hook a turtle. Learn more about how you can help Canada’s freshwater turtles

 

Here Are the Most Dangerous Roads in Eastern Ontario

Turtles and roads are a dangerous combination.

When turtles leave their wetlands on an overland trek, they often have to cross a road to get where they are going. Their destination may simply be the wetland across the road, or a nesting site for an adult female to lay her eggs. Whatever the reason for setting out, the result is often a dead turtle on the road.

Turtles are slow, which increases their risk of being hit by a car or truck as they cross a road. In addition, a turtle’s reaction to danger is often to pull in their head and legs and remain immobile. Unfortunately, remaining immobile on a busy road turns a turtle into a sitting duck.

Road Survey Results

Excavating a nest | Marquage des œufs de tortues serpentines.

Over the past two years, the CWF turtle team has been conducting road surveys in the greater Ottawa area to find out where turtles are getting hit on the roads.

Tragically, we have found more than 1,000 dead turtles on roads.

That is a staggering amount of roadkill that is likely not sustainable in the long term. We are working hard to get wildlife fencing installed at two of the locations where we found the most turtles on roads near Ottawa.

We found more turtles on some roads than others. A lot of things affect how many turtles are found on a given road, such as the length of the road, the traffic volume, how many wetlands are nearby, and how often the road is surveyed.

Turtles can be on the move from May to September but much of the movement occurs in June when adult females are looking for nesting locations. It is always a good idea to be alert for turtles when driving in the spring and summer.

If you can slow down when approaching wetlands this can increase the odds of seeing a turtle on the road before it is too late. And while it is good to be watching for turtles on any rural road, we can now say which roads in the Ottawa area cause the most mortality for turtles.

So if you are driving near Ottawa this spring and summer, be extra careful on the following roads:

Hot Roads Do you regularly drive one of Eastern Ontario's 'hot roads?' This map is a compilation of CWF's 2018 data on turtle strikes.
Hot Roads: Do you regularly drive one of Eastern Ontario’s ‘hot roads?’ This map is a compilation of CWF’s 2018 data on turtle strikes.
  • #7 (west of Carleton Place)
  • #10 (southwest of Perth)
  • #15 (south of Carleton Place)
  • Dwyer Hill Rd (western Ottawa)
  • Roger Stevens Drive (southern Ottawa)
  • Wolf Grove Rd (west of Almonte)

(These roads are ordered alphabetically. We have not attempted to rank these roads by the number of turtles as not all roads were surveyed the same amount.)

Not surprisingly these are all relatively long and busy roads. Various other shorter roads also had a number of dead turtles, just not as many as these roads. It is a dangerous place out there for turtles. Please watch for them as they try to cross our roads.

If you want to find out more about what you can do for turtles, please check out our website, HelptheTurtles.ca.

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

To get to the wetland on the other side.

It is spring and turtles are active, often moving from one wetland to another. Or females are looking for a place to lay their eggs. These movements often mean turtles must cross roads to get where they want to go.

Over the past two years, the Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team has found over 1,000 dead turtles on roads in eastern Ontario. That is a staggering amount of mortality. We know that road mortality is a serious threat to turtles and we are working on getting wildlife fencing installed at some of the worst spots to keep turtles off the road.

What Can I Do?

In the mean time, we can all do our part by watching for turtles on roads, particularly when we are driving in rural areas close to lakes and wetlands. The CWF turtle team has rescued over 100 turtles from roads over the past two years. You can help too.

First of all, if you see a turtle trying to cross the road, make sure it is safe to help. If the traffic isn’t too heavy and it is safe to do so, pull off onto the road shoulder and turn on the car’s four-way flashers. Look both ways before heading onto the road to save the turtle. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life.

With the exception of Snapping Turtles it is fairly easy to pick up most turtles. Use both hands and grab the turtle on either side of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that it is being rescued from the road and may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with both hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you. It’s a good idea to keep a pair of work gloves in the car to protect your hands when moving turtles, and for other roadside adventures.

Always move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. Turtles know where they want to go. Release the turtle on the shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road. Take a bow, as you just saved a turtle.

Moving Snapping Turtles, especially large ones, is more challenging. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they can bite. They can also spin around quickly or even lunge. Do not grab the sides of the shell of a Snapping Turtle as the head may whip around and bite you.

One option to move a Snapping Turtle is the car mat drag. Place a car mat behind the turtle, grab the back of the shell near the back legs and drag the turtle onto the mat. Do not drag the turtle by its tail as this can injure the turtle. Once the turtle is on the mat, drag the mat off the road, keeping one hand on the back of the turtle.

Another technique for moving a Snapping Turtle is the shovel lift. If you have a shovel in the car, approach the turtle from behind and slide the shovel under it. Then lift and move the Snapping Turtle off the road. Don’t lift the shovel too far above the road as the turtle may try to move and fall off the shovel.

To see how to safely pick up a Snapping Turtle by hand, check out our video on how to move a turtle off the road.

To learn more how you can help turtles, visit HelpTheTurtles.ca

Helping At-Risk Freshwater Turtles: From Start to Finish

In June of this year, CWF’s turtle team spent many long evenings searching for turtles laying eggs.

In particular we were looking for Snapping Turtles and Blanding’s Turtles in the process of laying their eggs. Our goal was to let the females lay their eggs and afterwards we would dig up and collect the eggs to incubate them back at CWF headquarters.

Why?

Hannah moving a Blanding's Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns
Hannah moving a Blanding’s Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns

All eight of Canada’s freshwater turtles are now considered to be species at risk. Turtles face a lot of threats such as loss of wetland habitat, and traffic mortality. In many areas 50 per cent or more of turtle nests will be destroyed and eaten by predators such as raccoons. Nest predation is a natural process, but giving turtles a helping hand by protecting their nests can benefit their populations.

From Start to Finish

1. Collecting Eggs

Excavated Snapping Turtle eggs in the field
Excavated Snapping Turtle eggs in the field | Marquage des œufs de tortues hargneuses.

Collecting turtle eggs is not as easy as it may sound. After a female turtle has laid her eggs, she packs the soil back into the hole and there is often no sign of the nest. The surest way to find a turtle nest is to find the female during the few hours she is in the process of laying her eggs. This can involve a lot of searching in the evening, when turtles are most apt to lay their eggs.

Great care has to be taken not to startle the turtle, or she may abandon her search for a nesting site until another evening. Once the female has finished nesting, we carefully dig up the nest and collect the eggs. After many long and late nights, the Turtle Team gathered more than 400 eggs from roadside nests!

2. Egg Incubation

CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator.
CWF Freshwater Turtle Specialist Dave Seburn shows us the turtle eggs in the incubator | Œufs dans un incubateur

The eggs were kept in a special reptile egg incubator that maintains a constant temperature. Eggs from two species at risk turtles were collected: the Blanding’s Turtle and Snapping Turtle. Blanding’s Turtle eggs are oval, whereas Snapping Turtle eggs are round, like tiny ping-pong balls. Blanding’s Turtles lay about a dozen eggs, whereas Snapping Turtles lay 30 to 40 eggs.

The eggs from each nest were placed in a separate container filled with damp vermiculite, an artificial potting soil mixture. Our first eggs began to hatch in early August, but the eggs continued to hatch over the next few weeks. Excluding the eggs which weren’t fertilized, we had about 97 per cent of the eggs hatch successfully.

3. Hatched Eggs

Blanding’s Turtles at different stages of hatching
Blanding’s Turtles at different stages of hatching | Tortues mouchetées à différentes phases d’éclosion | Tortues mouchetées à différentes étapes de l’éclosion.

When the hatchlings first emerge, they have a yolk sac attached to their bottom shell. This contains nutrients and feeds the hatchlings for the first few days of life. We kept the hatchlings until the yolk sac was absorbed and then released each clutch of hatchlings back near where the eggs were found, at the closest wetland to each nest. By the end of August we had released almost 400 hatchlings back into the wild.

4. Releasing the Hatchlings

These hatchlings still have a hard life in front of them.

The parents do not provide any care for the hatchlings, so they are on their own to find food, avoid predators and find a safe place to hibernate for the winter. Without our help though, at least half of these eggs would have simply become food for raccoons. And possibly many of the hatchlings would not have successfully made the trek to water as the eggs are often laid 100 metres or more from a wetland.

Adding more turtles to wild populations is a good start, but there are many other threats that need to be addressed to help the turtles.

Learn other ways how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca.

Sad News About Red Rockette, the Winner of the 2013 Great Canadian Turtle Race

Which turtle would nest first?

This was the question on our minds here at CWF at the start of the Great Canadian Turtle Race. Our friends at the Canadian Sea Turtle Network applied satellite tags to ten female leatherback turtles of the coast of Nova Scotia during the summer of 2012.

And then we all eagerly watched the turtles make their way to their southern nesting grounds of U.S.A., Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Venezuella, Grenada, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

We were all thrilled when Red Rockette nested on a beach in Colombia called Bobalito at the end of March, making her the first to nest and the official winner of the Great Canadian Turtle Race!


As the winner of the 2013 Great Canadian Turtle Race, Red Rockette (red line in map above) was the pacemaker for the 2016 Turtle Race.

Sad News

Friends, we have sad news about our winner. Red Rockette was recently found dead on Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy shoreline. This was a shocking discovery for us because we recently found her again in Canadian waters, off the coast of Nova Scotia, feeding as usual.

However, this year we found her body in a very decomposed state. When marine animals are found in this kind of state, it’s hard to determine a cause of death. We are still waiting on results from the necropsy, although preliminary results indicated that they weren’t able to determine a cause of death.

Model not displaying properly for you? Tap on these gallery images instead:
Leatherback Sea Turtle facing right illustration  |  Leatherback sea turtle facing down illustration  |  Leatherback sea turtle facing left illustration

Leatherback Sea Turtles are long lived animals, and Red Rockette should have had many years left. She was incredibly agile, swimming an average speed of 53 kilometres per day during the 2012/13 race and was still in her reproductive years.

And so we’re left shaking our heads in disbelief. It’s very alarming when a mature, reproductively active female Leatherback Sea Turtle dies – especially in Canadian waters. Canada, as you may know, is one of the safer countries to visit for Leatherbacks, however, clearly we’ve still got work to do to protect these animals while they’re in our waters.

Helping Turtles Live Long and Prosper

“That’s a Blanding’s!”

Hannah, one of my supervisors, said pointing into the oncoming traffic lane as we were driving.

This was one of my first encounters with a Blanding’s Turtle. This individual was proudly sitting at the far edge of the lane, displaying the bright yellow chin and throat that is so characteristic of the species by putting its head aloft in a pose full of innocent curiosity… as a car rapidly approached.

“Oh, don’t you dare hit it,” Hannah grumbled as she flew out of the car to help the turtle.

Hannah moving a Blanding's Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns
Hannah moving a Blanding’s Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns

This particular turtle was unharmed; the driver moved to avoid it as they approached (thank you, whoever you are if you are reading this).

Unfortunately, all too often, this is not the ending to such encounters. This is one of the main reasons why all eight of the turtle species in Ontario are now listed as being at risk. Even the Painted Turtle has recently been listed.

Helping a Turtle Cross the Road

That’s where the Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team comes in. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is in its second year of identifying places of high turtle road mortality, or “hotspots.” By surveying roads and finding these areas, we are able to inform municipalities on where it is important to put up mitigation measures to prevent further turtle deaths on the road.

The most common and simplest of these mitigations are turtle crossing signs to warn drivers of the potential hazard. We are particularly fortunate to be able to monitor areas with new signs put up this year in order to determine their effectiveness. Another common, and likely more effective, measure are fences that guide turtles and other wildlife to the nearest culvert that passes under the road.

Mapping Turtles Means Protection

As a side effect, these surveys are also helping to create more accurate maps of the current distribution of the turtles that can be found in the Ottawa area. Just this summer we have found over 600 turtles on the road.

Moving an Eastern Musk Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns
Moving an Eastern Musk Turtle @ Mackenzie Barns

One memorable find was a Musk Turtle alive at the side of the road in an area where the species had not been reported since 1947. Also, observations of some species, such as the previously mentioned endangered Blanding’s Turtle, can result in habitat protection for nearby wetlands where these turtles live.

Why Turtles?

So why should this be a concern when there are plenty of other animals being hit on the road each year?

Unlike mammals or birds, turtle species have extremely low survival rates until they are fully grown. To compensate for this, they rely on mature individuals producing hundreds of eggs over multiple decades just to replace the parents. This many eggs may sound excessive, but most of the nests are raided by predators such as foxes or raccoons before the eggs hatch.

A Blanding’s Turtle just hatched
A Blanding’s Turtle just hatched | Une tortue mouchetée après l’éclosion

For the hatchlings that do make it out of the nest, they are then faced with the task of surviving 10 to 20 years before they can start producing offspring of their own. Because of this, the death of any individual adult is a serious loss to the population.

How to Help Turtles

Although we are doing our best to help the turtles in the Ottawa area, they can always use more help. By assisting turtles crossing the road (see “How to (Safely) Move a Turtle across The Road”), or even slowing down around wetlands, we can all help prevent turtle road mortalities.

Also, submitting sightings of turtles, alive or dead, either online or through apps like iNaturalist is also beneficial. Just submit a photo and the location to help ensure a prosperous future for our turtles.

Learn other ways how you can HelpTheTurtles.ca.

What Did You Do This Summer? Well, Here’s Some of What We Did…

As the largest supporter-based conservation charity in Canada, we thought we’d report back to you on some of what we’ve accomplished during the 2018 summer conservation field work season. There were both successes and failures, but all of the work we do helps further our understanding of these species in order to best conserve Canada’s wildlife.

Helping the American Eel

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Aquatic Science Team conducted research on the American Eel in the Ottawa River this summer. Eels face many challenges, and their populations have declined dramatically in recent years. Our summer research included:

  • Determining downstream migratory routes the eels take while passing the Chaudière Falls Generating Station by placing 40 acoustic receivers in the water upstream and downstream of the falls. This helped target large eels that are ready to make their downstream journey back to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea.
  • Counting their numbers to determine how many of these at-risk species there are in the area. We did this two ways:
    • Trap netting, where we caught over 3,600 fish and identified 22 different species (sadly, we only found one eel).
    • Night time boat electrofishing which temporarily stuns the fish. It may sound extreme but they were not hurt and it really is critical that we learn how many eel remain as this species is dwindling quickly. This research provided more insight into how we can protect — and ideally restore — the population back to its original numbers.

Learn more about river barriers and how they affect our aquatic species.

Love Your Lake

This summer was busy with Love Your Lake shoreline health assessments. The 2018 summer season brought the program total to 157 lakes and approximately 37,830 shoreline properties! Thanks to our seven regional partners spread across three provinces, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and national partner Watersheds Canada were able to:

  • Be active on 18 lakes in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • Assess the shoreline health of approximately 3,570 waterfront properties.

In early 2019, the shoreline property owners on these lakes will receive a personalized shoreline property report with details on the state of their shoreline and recommended actions for improving the health of their shoreline.

For more information on the joint CWF and Watersheds Canada Love Your Lake program, please visit LoveYourLake.ca

Helping the Bats

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s bat team worked hard this spring and summer to promote bat conservation. The goal of this program is to ensure the long-term survival of Canada’s at-risk bats. A large portion of our season focused on bats that inhabit anthropogenic structures, like barns or attics.

CWF had the pleasure of teaming up with some wonderful students from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University to promote bat conservation. Our summer research included:

  • Developing and disseminating Best Management Practices and Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Identifing maternity roosts that contain Endangered Little Brown Myotis so we can understand what habitats might need protecting.
  • Collecting biophysical data of the roosts in order to advise on preferred habitat creation and recovery strategy.
  • Testing the effectiveness of different bat house designs to determine the best designs for different species and different areas such as urban versus rural.
  • Promoting bat observations via citizen science, and outreach to our communities across the country.

By getting the word out there and learning the best ways to help these at-risk species, we’re hoping to reduce the amount of times their habitats are destroyed, and of course, reduce the impact habitat destruction has on these mammals. We continue to work to support Through effective messaging, outreach, and management strategies, we hope to reduce the frequency and impacts of habitat destruction and support the health, recovery, and survival of at-risk bats.

Learn more about Canada’s bats at HelptheBats.ca

Helping the Turtles

The Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team was very busy this year! Our field work season included:

  • Conducting surveys for the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Our goal was to find new locations which included this declining species in order to increase the amount of protected habitat. In so doing, we received permission from many land owners to surveys wetlands on their property and found Blanding’s Turtles in 10 different private and government-owned wetlands.
  • Surveying roads to find frequent turtle road-kill locations. Identifying these locations can help us push for road mitigation — such as wildlife fencing — in these sections of road. This would protect turtles and other wildlife. This year we found over 500 dead turtles on the roads around the Ottawa area, including over 60 dead Blanding’s Turtles.
  • Collecting turtle eggs that were laid in at risk locations, such as roadsides. By collecting and incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings back at the nearest wetland, we helped to compensate for the number of turtles killed on roads. The eggs were successfully incubated and we released almost 400 Blanding’s and Snapping Turtle hatchlings!

Learn more about our turtle work at HelptheTurtles.ca

Helping the Birds

This year, the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Biologist Nathan Clements spent 10 days traversing the Queen Maud Gulf region of Nunavut. His work included:

  • Banding of Greater White-fronted Geese and Cackling Geese in order to monitor Arctic and sub-Arctic geese and their migrations throughout the continent. More than 2,500 geese were banded, which is slightly above the banding program targets set by the Arctic Goose Joint Venture.

The lead organization, the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (AGJV), works cooperatively with partners to provide a coordinated and cost-effective approach to meeting high priority information needs for the management of northern-nesting geese. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is a supporting partner of the AGJV, along with the Canadian Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, state and provincial wildlife agencies of all four flyways, and other non-government organizations. This partnership approach is especially valuable for conducting Arctic research where logistics are more costly and where maximum return from available funds is highly desirable.

Helping the Salmon

The Canadian Wildlife Federation, along with Carleton University, Carcross/Tagish First Nation, and the Yukon Energy Corporation, is studying the migration of Chinook Salmon in the furthest reaches of their run near Whitehorse. These fish have travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea. They face many challenges during their spawning migration. Compared to historic records, populations have been depleted for decades and we are undertaking research to find out why and what we can do to help. Chinook are the king of the Pacific Salmon, and this is a very special population of the species. We take care to minimize the effects of our research on the individuals that we encounter, and are honoured to work with the local community towards their conservation.

For the past two summer seasons, we have been:

  • Implanting fish with acoustic transmitters
  • Tracking their movements as they approach the Whitehorse Hydro Plant, pass the world’s longest fish ladder, and continue to their spawning grounds.
  • Tagging as many fish as we can. Thus far we have tagged 138 fish. We will know how they fared by mid-September once their spawning run is complete and we retrieve data from our acoustic telemetry array.

Read more about this work.

Helping the Pollinators

To investigate the role of natural habitats on wild pollinators, the Canadian Wildlife Federation initiated a three year study in Norfolk County, Ontario. The goal of the project is to examine the relationship between the diversity and abundance of insect pollinators and three habitat types: forest, hedgerow, and grassy field margins.

Conserving a diversity of beneficial insects, like bees and hoverflies, in intensively cropped systems is important for providing ecosystem services to farmers such as pollination. We believe that natural habitats such as forests and hedgerows likely play a significant conservation role within intensively managed agricultural landscapes.

Summer 2018 was our first field season, where we were:

  • Collected pollinating insects using specialized traps on 11 farms in Norfolk County, southern Ontario. Each trap collected thousands of insects that then had to be sorted and identified by hand.
  • Compared the results of hand identified insect samples to results using DNA barcoding. If DNA barcoding gives us similar results to hand identification we will have a fast and efficient way to determine abundance and diversity of pollinators in different types of habitats on agricultural lands. The hope is that we can provide advice to farmers on what types of natural habitats will be good for farming and good for wildlife.

Results of the research will be shared with farmers and governments to inspire sustainable agricultural practices, policies and programs.

Helping Whales

Using our knowledge of whale biology and basic principles of collision impacts, we are developing a computer model to predict whether the forces on a whale during a collision with a ship could cause serious harm. The computer model will take into account specific features of Right Whales (e.g. blubber thickness) and of small vessels (e.g. ship weight). This new collision impact prediction tool will provide industry and regulators with the ability to explore how the risk of harm to right whales from small vessel strikes changes depending on the size, speed, and design of the vessel.

Ultimately this work will lead to recommendations on how the risk may be avoided. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. We will have the opportunity to expand this work in more detail as we better establish the important factors to consider during collisions, and to suggest how the risk may be reduced.

Learn more about marine animal response in Canada at the Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance website.

We Have So Much More to Do

With the financial support from our dedicated donors, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has been able to make leaps and strides in wildlife conservation in Canada. But with increasing habitat loss and a climate that is quickly changing, Canada’s wildlife needs your support more than ever.

Thank you for caring about Canada’s wildlife and please consider supporting the work we do.

A Red Tide of Death for Turtles

Since October, hundreds of dead and sickened sea turtles have been washing ashore on the beaches of Southwest Florida.

The cause? An annually occurring natural phenomenon known as Red Tide.

red tide california
A Red Tide near La Jolla, California.

What is Red Tide?

Red Tide is the result of excessive growth of the algae Karenia brevis. As the name suggests, it often turns the sea a rusty red colour.

So what is it that makes Red Tide so deadly? The red algae produces a chemical that is toxic to marine organisms. This can be fatal when the algae is present in great enough quantities.

This year has been worse than most for the seasonal algal bloom. Most blooms begin in the late fall and dissipate by April. Sadly, this Red Tide is still going strong well into the summer. It is suspected to remain a problem for several months to come.

CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife)
CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife), Florida

At-Risk Sea Turtles Dying

Two at-risk sea turtles are most affected by this Red Tide: Loggerhead and Kemp Ridley. Many of the turtles found on beaches have been adults — part of what makes this bloom so devastating to their conservation. Turtles can take between 25 to 30 years to reach maturity, and will lay thousands of eggs over decades. Only about one in 1,000 of these eggs will survive to adulthood. So the death of so many adults has the potential to stunt the recovery of these protected sea turtles for decades to come.

Red Tide isn’t the only type of algal bloom that poses a risk to wildlife. While you won’t see a Red Tide in freshwater, you may have observed scummy, foamy or discoloured water in a pond or lake near you. These unsightly features are also caused by algae blooms.

Freshwater algal bloom
Freshwater algae blooms may produce toxins, but can also lead to anoxia.

Freshwater Algal Blooms

Freshwater algae blooms may produce toxins, but can also lead to anoxia (a depletion of oxygen available in the water) when the algae dies and decomposes — killing fish. These blooms can also be harmful to humans, and can irritate the skin and eyes of swimmers or even make you sick.

Caused by Humans

There are some human-caused factors that may in part be responsible for the severity of this year’s Red Tide.

  1. Climate change has been increasing ocean temperatures worldwide, favouring algae growth.
  2. Nutrient pollution is largely the result of human activities, like farming, where fertilizers can contaminate nearby water through run-off. Nutrient pollution increases levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, and provides algae with the food it needs to grow out of control.

Prevented by Humans

Luckily there are some things we can all do to help prevent nutrient pollution:

  • Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn or garden.
  • If you have a septic system, ensure that it is properly maintained, so that leaking sewage doesn’t contaminate local bodies of water.
  • Use phosphate-free detergents, cleaning products and personal care products.
  • Build a shoreline buffer on your property using native vegetation to intercept contaminants.

Learn other ways you can help using CWF’s Love Your Lake Shoreline Property Resources. Or, learn more about our turtles at HelpTheTurtles.ca.