Save turtles and other reptiles with the On the Road Again campaign

On the Road Again

On the Road Again, a campaign funded by Parks Canada, is back in action for another year, paving the way for healthy road ecology with a team driven to save cottage country’s scaly friends. The On the Road Again team studies the mortality of reptiles to uncover the hotspots where turtles and snakes cross the road in search of the best place to rest and nest. The project takes place in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Bruce Peninsula National Park, and Thousand Islands National Park. 

They also partner with local conservation organizations to conduct habitat surveys of various at-risk species, including the spotted turtle and Blanding’s turtle, both of which are in danger. 

“Turtles are keystone species necessary for the food chain and cleaning our waterways,” says Katherine Welch, On the Road Again coordinator Katherine Welch. They also transport seeds and provide new vegetation. In fact, Welch says that a staggering 70 per cent of wildlife depends on wetlands, making them “keepers of the wetlands.” Since less than one per cent of turtles make it to adulthood, we cottagers can’t sit back. 

How On the Road Again is helping 

To support migration, Welch says that the team has been successfully installing eco passages, which travel underneath the road and provide a haven for these scurrying reptiles. “Our goal is to establish vital connections between different areas, allowing animals to move freely,” she says. Concrete passages have a grate for sunlight and fencing, to not lead these reptiles back to the road. “We put cameras in the eco passages and discovered that over 2000 reptiles are using the passages,” says Welch. “There has been a decline in turtle mortality. So, we know now our ways are working.”

The project also builds nesting mounds that mimic sandy soil environments and resemble roadside gravel, where turtles prefer to lay their eggs. They also deploy special teams to protect the species against predators. “We excavate and incubate the eggs until they hatch,” says Welch. “Once they hatch, we release them back into the wild.”

To inform the program, Parks Canada is collaborating with Bruce Saugeen Ojibway to better understand the lives of turtles and snakes. “We also work with the Mohawk Nation to learn lessons from the Indigenous People,” says Welch. “Learning from Indigenous knowledge keepers and Western science practices allows us to have a better perspective on what actions we need to take.”

What can cottagers do to help? 

Drive slower during nesting season and avoid a turtle when driving if it is safe to do so, says Welch. Turtles are on the move right now, looking to find their perfect nest in gravel and sand. 

Parks Canada also partners with Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, which operates a rescue hospital. Help an injured turtle by calling the helpline at 705-741-5000. Or, connect with other local grassroots organizations as a part of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Network

iNaturalist is a great resource for building a social network with citizen scientists and biologists, who are mapping observations in biodiversity around the world. 

“Don’t forget to visit Parks Canada to get a better understanding of protection efforts,” says Welch. “We have a responsibility as a community to care.”