The 23rd annual World Turtle Day took place this Tuesday. Organizations across the globe have marked the celebration annually to bring awareness to turtles and their disappearing habitats.
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC), a Peterborough-based charity, is currently in the midst of releasing more than 3,000 turtles across the providence that were cared for throughout the winter this year.
With the turtle populations of Ontario decreasing, the turtles being released back into their home wetlands is a “triumph” for the providence’s ecosystem and the OTCC, according to OTCC Executive and Medical Director Dr. Sue Carstairs
Turtles are brought into OTCC to be rehabilitated from injuries or sickness. Some were also hatched in the centre. Carstairs said the hospital admits turtles from across Ontario.
“Mostly turtles that are injured on roads, but also ones, for instance, found by research biologists as being sick, or they may have been accidentally hooked on a fishing line, or all kinds of things,” Carstairs said.
Other conservation organizations across Canada have also highlighted the importance of World Turtle Day.
The risk brought to these animals is mainly caused by man-made problems, and conservation groups across Canada encourage human action to help turtles survive and thrive.
All eight of the species of turtles native to Ontario are considered at risk federally. Seven of the eight are at-risk provincially.
As the risks to turtles rise, more and more changes in wetland health are evident, ultimately affecting larger bodies of water.
The OTCC operates as a turtle hospital that rehabilitates and releases injured turtles and conducts educational outreach programs, field study research initiatives and a hatchling program.
OTCC has a vast network of first responders and volunteer taxi drivers across the province to retrieve injured turtles that have been found and reported to them by the public.
The Medical Director said the hatchling program also supports turtles that have come into the OTCC hospital while in the process of laying eggs.
“We make sure those eggs aren’t lost. We collect those eggs while the turtles are with us, and we incubate about 8,000 eggs a year,” Carstairs said.
OTCC collects, incubates, hatches and cares for the turtle eggs for a varying amount of time, depending on the species.
“The babies are then released back to the mother’s wetland to make sure that even if the mother didn’t make it, some of her progeny will go back and hopefully replace her in the population,” Carstairs said.
The OTCC also collaborates with Kassie McKeown, Alderville First Nation, to educate the public on the importance of turtles both environmentally, culturally and historically.
“Indigenous people call North America ‘Turtle Island’ because legend describes this land as being situated on the back of a turtle,” McKeown said.
“Spending time on the land allows for understanding balance in biodiversity which instils a greater appreciation of, and connectedness to the environment.”
World Turtle Day was created in 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue, a non-profit organization based in the United States.