Upper Thames River Conservation Authority turtle team reports bumper year

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It has been a record year! The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) Species at Risk Reptile Team (aka Turtle Team) is releasing more than 3,000 baby turtles back into the Thames River! This is one of the longest running and most successful reptile research, recovery and education programs in Canada.

Scott Gillingwater, UTRCA Species at Risk Biologist, says, “This record breaking year would not have been possible without the dedication of community member Karen Auzins. When Karen heard that there was a funding shortfall that was putting the recovery efforts for the Spiny Softshell Turtle in jeopardy, she gathered funds through Nature London and her Rotary club to pay for a Species at Risk Research Assistant for the entire 2015 season!” Scott adds, “Without Karen’s efforts, this position would not have been possible and we wouldn’t have achieved the great successes we’ve had this year.”

Karen Auzins explains, “One of the main objectives of Nature London is to conserve wildlife and to protect its natural habitat. My Rotary club was involved in conservation projects for many years as well. So both clubs were happy to be able to donate funds and thus be part of this most deserving conservation project.”

The Spiny Softshell Turtle is threatened both provincially and federally. Only a small number of hatchling turtles reach adulthood, so it’s critical for biologists to protect the eggs and release as many hatchlings as possible. Early studies along the Thames River revealed almost zero turtle egg survival, but recent research shows that protection efforts are having an impact locally. Since egg protection began in the 1990s, the local Spiny Softshell Turtle population has shown increases in the number of turtles of all age classes.

Threats to the Spiny Softshell Turtle:

  • Loss of habitat
  • Collection for the pet and food trade
  • Getting caught on fishing hooks

While threats are increasing each year, a strategy has been developed to counter some of the drastic losses experienced across the species’ range in Canada.