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Turtle Conservation Centre declares “state of emergency”

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The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre has been overflowing with injured turtles this summer — so many that the centre has declared a state of emergency. Over 600 turtles have been treated at the centre this year, many of them after being crushed by cars. Shell fractures are one of the top issues surgeons treat at the centre, wiring and gluing the shells back together so they can heal.

“We are beyond maximum caring capacity. . . . We’ve never seen it this busy,” Sue Carstairs, a turtle surgeon, told the CBC. Staff at the conservation centre aren’t sure why the numbers are so high this year but speculate that the rainy weather has drawn the turtles out into public spaces where they can get hurt. Crossing roads is particularly hazardous for the notoriously slow-moving creatures.

Person holding injured turtle
A worker at the OTCC holds up a turtle healing from a broken shell.

Seven out of the eight turtle species in Ontario are considered species at risk, so keeping adults safe is vital, Carstairs said. “They take up to 20 years to reach maturity. So they need to live a long, long time to even have a chance of replacing themselves in the population.”

Unfortunately, the shoulders of roads are a popular place for turtle nurseries because they’re warm and soft. And since turtles have been around the region for a lot longer than highways have, they haven’t had time to adapt to human-made changes to the landscape.

Fortunately, there are small ways humans can help. Amy Henson, a biologist with Science North in Sudbury, says that if you encounter a turtle crossing a road, it is ok to pick it up and move it to the other side. “Just make sure you’re pointing him in the same direction as when he started, and take him off the road two metres.” Henson also has one other piece of advice for good samaritans wanting to help turtles cross the street — don’t take extra time to take a selfie. “That can confuse the turtle and get him all turned around.”