Sudbury·Up North

Human built nesting sites could save turtles

When travelling south of Sudbury on Highway 69, you may have noticed a small fence close to the highway.
Researchers are working to protect turtles from crossing northern highways. One recent idea is building nesting mounds to prevent them from crossing the road. (James Paterson/Supplied)
James Paterson is looking at trying to save the turtles by stopping them from trying to cross the road in the first place.

When travelling south of Sudbury on Highway 69, you may have noticed a small fence close to the highway.

It was placed there to keep turtles off the road, however, new data has found holes in the fence aren't keeping the reptiles off the pavement.

Now, researchers are looking at placing nesting mounds close to the road for the turtles, so the reptiles don't have to cross the road to lay their eggs.

University of Ottawa PhD student James Paterson, who is also a graduate of Laurentian University, worked with biology professor Jackie Litzgus on the idea.

Paterson said when turtles lay their eggs, they are looking for a warm spot where they can dig.

"Unfortunately, those areas are along the side of the roads, such as shoulders," he said.

"In rural areas, it's actually the … dirt road. They're laying their eggs in the dirt road."

Paterson said Litzgus came up with an idea to place ready-made nesting mounds close to the road, so the turtles wouldn't be tempted to cross.

A test project was done, and four of the mounds were placed in Algonquin Park, he said.

He said protecting female turtles is important.

"The way the population is stable, they have to be able to lay eggs every year for a really long time," he explained.

"So when a female gets hit and she's only 20 or 30 years old, that could be another 20 or 30 years of nesting that the population doesn't get out of that one female."

Paterson said even if a handful of females get hit each year, it could be enough to drive the population to extinction.

He said the project of placing mounds along roadsides is still in the testing phase.

"It's just one small step towards conserving these animals," he said.

"There's lots of other threats, like habitat loss."