RBG has a long history of habitat protection and restoration activities, both terrestrial and aquatic. Turtles are a priority group for RBG as the nature sanctuaries contain two of the largest coastal marshes remaining on western Lake Ontario. These wetlands, Cootes Paradise Marsh and Grindstone Marsh have a combined area of 380 ha and are the subject of an ongoing ecosystem-based habitat recovery program. RBG has been engaged in several projects to benefit turtles and overall ecosystem health. RBG enacts various action plan recommendations from its board-approved “Turtles of Royal Botanical Gardens Site Specific Recovery Plan (2014)”, pending relevant funding approvals and support from outside organizations and the public.
Below is an abridged summary of RBG’s Strategies to Address Threats as detailed in that plan:
Improve Habitat Quality
- Continue the onsite Project Paradise marsh restoration program (carp exclusion and management, strategic wetland plantings, water quality monitoring).
- Maintain known nesting areas; restore/increase/improve nesting habitat (localized nest habitat improvements including invasive plant removal, soil amendments, artificially created nest piles etc.).
- Undertake removal/management of monocultural stands of invasive wetland plants in accordance with published best management practices (manual removal, pesticide application, etc.).
- Support initiatives to recover inflowing water to meet provincial guidelines for aquatic life.
- Encourage upstream water quality improvement initiatives as identified in the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan (HHRAP).
Reduce adult mortality
- Trap, radio-tag, and track adult female Blanding’s to remove from unsafe situations as needed.
- Highlight turtle nesting and emergence seasons to turf mower operators.
- Implement projects to address road mortality hotspots by creating safe movement corridors using permanent crossing structures, guide fences, signage and/or road closures, reduced speed limits in identified areas of high mortality.
- Request a speed limit reduction on Cootes Dr. to match regular urban municipal roads (60km/hr).
- Solicit increased enforcement of poaching & littering laws by appropriate authorities; update enforcement officers on known poaching areas, each nesting season.
- Prohibit fishing within RBG nature sanctuaries.
- Continue to restrict motorized boat access annually in Cootes, and via buoy system in Carroll’s Bay.
- Ensure visitors are aware of by-laws and encourage them to report violations.
Increase recruitment rates
- Undertake nest protection (with a focus on Blanding’s Turtles); in-situ (through nest covers) and ex-situ protection via incubation of nests in high-risk locations (i.e. mulch piles, garden beds, roadsides).
- Tag and track Blanding’s Turtle females during nesting movements to protect their nests.
- Ensure nesting turtles are adequately protected in RBG garden areas.
- Reduce the raccoon population by minimizing accessible garbage, and discouraging on-site release of nuisance wildlife, captured off-site, by institutions related to animal control/rehabilitation.
- Consider population augmentation and reintroductions once threats are sufficiently mitigated (Blanding’s turtle hatchlings sent to heads-starting whenever possible).
- Develop institutional policies related to staff interactions with turtles and nests and integrate them into each department’s operational practices.
Education and stewardship
- Deliver RBG education/camp programming on turtles and Species at Risk; support/participate with educational presentations and materials across departments.
- Provide information to local/RBG-adjacent landowners and businesses about turtles; provide recommended approaches for what to do if they are found on their property (conducted via annually delivered pamphlets and social media announcements).
- Lead, participate in, and support garbage clean-ups.
- Establish a turtle conservation page on the RBG website.
- Encourage projects on adjacent properties that will reduce mortality and increase nest success (focal areas confidential).
- Improve RBG entrances and boundaries to control access and communicate to visitors that they are in a nature sanctuary.
- Population monitoring (trapping and basking surveys).
- Undertake nest surveys and protection.
- Complete annual summaries of monitoring data.
- Use standardized turtle monitoring, marking, and handling protocols.
- Submit turtles that are deceased, from unknown causes, for autopsies.
Collaborate with outside organizations
- Collaborate with adjacent landowners/business operators, and discuss management strategies/opportunities to work together on reducing mortality, increasing nest success, and improving habitat connectivity.
- Continue to support Dundas Turtle watch volunteer road monitoring.
- Participate in and stay informed of turtle conservation and research initiatives.
- Collaborate and share information with institutions with similar goals.
- Foster relationships with researchers and educational institutions promoting opportunities to study turtles at RBG.
- Encourage upstream initiatives by Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan (HHRAP) partners to reduce water pollution and sedimentation.
- Continue to inform the Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River Regulation water regulation study team.
- Provide access and field support to studies of chemical contaminants & impacts on turtles of RBG.
- Encourage initiatives to reduce chemical inputs into the natural lands & remediate where possible.
- Contribute where possible to broader research community on studies of issues relevant to turtles including genetics, environmental contaminants, and climate change.
- Maintain the database for turtle monitoring and research at RBG.
- Develop/use turtle record-reporting abilities for members of the public.
- Standardize monitoring & marking protocols as per provincial guidelines as they are provided.
- Ensure all research conducted at RBG is authorized by a permit and a copy of the results is received upon completion of the study.
- Ensure that a copy of all available studies and relevant raw data (past, present, and future) are documented in RBG’s library/archives.
Management of non-native turtle species
- When encountered, non-native turtles should be removed from the wild.
- Disseminate information about the dangers/negative impacts of releasing pet turtles, considerations before taking on a pet turtle, providing options for unwanted pet turtles, other than release into the wild.