British Columbia

Abandoned pets, vanishing habitat threaten native turtles

The threat posed to the native Western Painted Turtle is growing because of competition for food and basking spots from released pet turtles which thrive and reproduce here.

Habitat Aquisition Trust is urging people to stop turning aquarium turtles loose

Red-eared sliders, which are sold as aquarium pets, compete with the endangered western painted turtle population for food, basking and nesting sites in the Victoria area. (CBC)

Abandoned aquarium pets are threatening the survival of an endangered native turtle species on southern Vancouver Island. 

Alanah Nasadyk, the community and development coordinator for Habitat Acquisition Trust, said the group is worried about the future of western painted turtles as the competition intensifies for food and habitat.

The "invaders" as Nasadyk describes them, are red-eared sliders, which are frequently released into lakes and streams where they grow to more than 30 centimetres.

"They are not only being dropped off as abandoned pets but they are also able to reproduce here in our colder northern climate," Nasadyk said.

The first evidence of red-eared sliders reproducing in southern British Columbia was confirmed in Delta two years ago, confirming the conservationist's "greatest fear," she said. 

The western painted turtle found in B.C.'s Pacific Region has been listed as an endangered species since 2006 but is still lacking any officially protected habitat under federal species-at-risk legislation. (Central Kootenay Invasive Plant Committee)

Aside from competing for food, nesting and basking sites, the red-eared sliders carry and transmit diseases including respiratory illness and salmonella. 

Red-eared sliders are among the 100 worst invaders recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Basking in Beacon Hill Park

Nasadyk said it is easy to spot the non-native species. In Victoria's Beacon Hill Park, they can often be seen lined up and basking on a log. 

"We really encourage people, if they can't take care of their pets any more, find a new home for them or just surrender them to a refuge," she said. 

Meanwhile, the endangered freshwater turtles are competing with the invaders for a share of a shrinking habitat, as 80 per cent of the wetlands in the Victoria region have disappeared and nesting beaches are disturbed by dogs and human traffic.