New Brunswick

Rockwood Park's turtles focus of new study

Rockwood Park is now home to a unique study that is investigating whether there is a healthy breeding population of snapping turtles and painted turtles in the urban park.

Painted and snapping turtles are commonly found in Saint John's Rockwood Park

Rockwood Park is now home to a unique study that is investigating whether there is a healthy breeding population of snapping turtles and painted turtles in the urban park.

Connie Browne, an ecologist and the staff naturalist at Rockwood Park in Saint John, has set up traps to see how many turtles live in the urban park. (Neville Crabbe/CBC)
Connie Browne, an ecologist and the park’s staff naturalist, has set up traps around the nine square kilometres of the urban park.

Browne said there is proof that snapping turtles and painted turtles, both native to New Brunswick, live in the park.

But she said she wants to know more about those turtles and how many are in the urban park.

"We don't know how many turtles there are, or what the status of this population is at all, that's because we know very, very little about this population right now," she said.

“We do have pictures, however, that prove they live here."

Browne said live traps have been set up to measure the abundance and age of the turtles living in the park.

She said that information will help determine if there is a breeding population or just some stranded turtles.

Any information about the number and types of turtles in the park will go a long way to help Browne better understand the Rockwood Park turtle population.

"There's been no research before this, so we want to know where they occur and get an idea of their abundance,” she said.

Shrinking populations are a concern

The Saint John study could also prove important for others, who are concerned about local turtle populations.

In 2008, the snapping turtle, which is one of the turtles that is being studied in Rockwood Park, was named a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

This red-eared slider was found in Rockwood Park, but should have stayed in an aquarium. The turtle was removed from the park and Browne is looking for a new home for the common, pet-store variety of turtle. (Neville Crabbe/CBC)
The population has proved sensitive as these animals have been squeezed by habitat loss and human interference.

"Snapping turtles can live to be 100 years old, so they could get into bad shape and it takes a long time for them to recover,” she said.

Browne said if the study finds a healthy breeding turtle population in a park heavily used by humans, Rockwood Park could be an example for others.

"It might be a great study location to find out, 'OK, how do we coexist with these turtles,'” she said.

Browne will tend her traps for the next two months and start crunching numbers in the fall.

She said the traps have, so far, brought mixed results.

One trap recently caught a red-eared slider, which she said is a common, pet-store variety of turtle.

Browne removed the red-eared slider from the park and is now trying to find a new home for it.

Rockwood Park is a popular spot in Saint John but if people stumble upon one of these turtles, Browne has simple advice. She said people should leave the turtles alone.

She also said people should not release exotic turtles into the wild because they pose threats to native species. The pet store turtles can carry pathogens that are not common to snappers and painted populations.