Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's threatened wood turtles to get help from students

Wood turtles are a species at risk in Nova Scotia and a group of young students from Digby to Aylesford are working together to try to bring their numbers back up as part of the Youth Leading Environmental Change Program.

The reptiles face habitat loss in nesting areas because of new construction

Tracking Jenny around the block. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Wood turtles are a species at risk in Nova Scotia and a group of young students from Digby to Aylesford are working together to try to bring their numbers back up as part of the Youth Leading Environmental Change Program.

Katie McLean is a species at risk biologist with the Clean Annapolis River Project and said the population is at risk.

"So wood turtles are listed as threatened, which is at the higher end of the species at risk spectrum," she said.

McLean and the group were at the Fales River site just outside of Greenwood, N.S. They released two wood turtles, both with radio transmitters attached to their shells to monitor the reptiles.

"So we put this on Jenny last May, so we've been tracking her for about a year," McLean said.

The students carry a device that looks a bit like an old-fashioned television antenna that tunes into the transmitter on the turtle.

The wood turtle habitat is threatened by new construction and agricultural equipment. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Jenny was very quickly located under some leaves beneath a tree.

Students take all kinds of measurements and record other information like the time, date, cloud cover, temperature and GPS location.

"This is the first year, I'm so excited we have this youth leading environmental change program," McLean said.

"It's the first time we are running it, so it's a bit of an experiment. But for me, the opportunity to interact with young people has been one of the more exciting things with this program."

McLean will work with 30 students until October, then they'll develop a presentation for community members and their schools to share the information they've learned.

Jayden Lewis is one of the students in the program and was out looking for the turtles on Thursday. He said he really enjoys it.

Sandy the turtle and her tracking device, released last week. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

"It forces me to come outside and instead of being stuck in the classroom looking at the smart board, we get to actually be outside and try to find animals," he said.

Two other students trekked through the river with the tracking device as it honed in on an area at the side of the river under an old tree.

McLean reached under the water and eventually pulls out Sandy, the wood turtle they just released last week.

Unknown numbers left

"This is only the second time we've seen Sandy, but we now know that she uses this area here, all the way up to where she was originally located," McLean said.

While there isn't enough data to say how many wood turtles are left in the province, they do know two big reasons for their declining numbers.

There has been habitat loss in nesting areas because of new construction plus agricultural equipment. Mowing blades set lower than four inches can hurt or kill wood turtles.

Mclean said education is the key, and they hope by working with the students they can improve the chances of the wood turtle's population increasing by monitoring and trying to protect them.

About the Author

World champion curler Colleen Jones has been reporting with CBC News for nearly three decades. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleenjones.