Conservationists celebrate N.S.'s newest turtle sanctuary
Only 350 adult Blanding's turtles remain in the wild in Nova Scotia
An endangered species of Nova Scotia turtle is getting extra protection after the province's nature trust created a sanctuary for the animal in the province's southwest.
The Nova Scotia Nature Trust has purchased a piece of property along McGowan Lake, home to one of the top breeding sites in the province for the Blanding's turtle.
Dennis Garratt, the trust's conservation manager, said the McGowan Lake Turtle Sanctuary will protect turtles by preventing the area from being developed.
"The biggest issues with these properties is that people are building cottages along the shoreline and putting in roads, which actually poses big problems for the turtles because they build on turtle nesting sites," said Garratt.
He added that expanding roadways make it easier for the slow-moving, semi-aquatic reptiles to be run over and killed.
The protected land — which encompasses 15 islands and a forested peninsula on McGowan Lake, about 60 kilometres west of Lunenburg — contains more than five kilometres of undeveloped shoreline.
Garrett said the trust had been looking at the property for the past six or seven years, but only began a public fundraising campaign last November to bring in money to purchase the site.
A news release from the nature trust said that the initiative broke one of its fundraising records, for the most individuals donating to a single campaign, with more than 300 individuals giving money to the habitat protection effort.
Garrett said the sanctuary is one of the most important ecologically significant areas the nature trust has so far purchased.
"The exciting thing is it can lead to more and more property being protected," he said.
He said the nature trust is already speaking with landowners and looking into buying other properties in the area to add to the nearly 30 square kilometres of land the organization already oversees.
"All the streams, all the brooks that are flowing through this area, [they] are important to Blanding's turtles," he said. "All of them hold breeding populations."
The Blanding's turtle is one of the longest-living and slowest maturing freshwater turtles in Canada and can live for up to 80 years. Only 350 of the adult turtles remain in the wild in Nova Scotia.
"They're prone to disturbance on their breeding sites, but also their overwintering sites because they winter at the bottom of still-flowing streams and lakes," he said.
The Blanding's turtle has a hatchling survival rate of less than one per cent, making them especially vulnerable.
The turtle is listed on both the Canadian and Nova Scotian endangered species lists.
The McGowan Lake Turtle Sanctuary is the 58th conservation area to be protected by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.