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HomeTechnology & ScienceTurtle survey aims to expand our knowledge of vulnerable reptile's habitat

Turtle survey aims to expand our knowledge of vulnerable reptile’s habitat

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Researchers have just finished combing some sandy beaches along the Coulonge River in western Quebec’s Pontiac region for wood turtles, designated a vulnerable species in that province. They found three. 

Their slow and steady work is part of a new project to monitor and protect four animal species found in the Outaouais. The researchers hope that by searching areas that aren’t normally covered by these wildlife population surveys, the known habitat of each will expand.

Quebec’s environment ministry partnered with Conseil régional de l’environnement et du développement durable de l’Outaouais (CREDDO) on a two-year project looking at the western chorus frog, the Blanding’s turtle, the four-toed salamander and the wood turtle. 

The CREDDO team was tasked with searching along the Coulonge and East Coulonge rivers for wood turtles. (Last year, the team searched areas where the turtles were known to be and found about 10.)

Cénédra Poulin is project manager for the wood turtle population survey. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada)

Cénédra Poulin, the project lead with CREDDO, said even though the team only turned up three turtles this year, they believe there are more. 

“We found lots and lots of nests and traces … but we were just not lucky and we didn’t find them,” Poulin said.

Searching for nests

She and her colleague Anne Budge searched along the Coulonge River by canoe, paddling between 60 and 100 kilometres over two weeks in late June. They covered the same areas several times to try to get an accurate population picture. 

Budge said it’s nesting season for wood turtles, which like to burrow in the sand. 

“Whenever we find a nice beach, a nice patch of sand, we stop, try to find the nest and some traces,” Budge said. “Also the slope has to be not too steep, otherwise the turtles can’t climb out of the river.”

Two people sit on a sandy beach with a canoe.
Poulin, right, and Anne Budge take five along the Colonge River. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada)

When Poulin and Budge find a turtle, they report its location to Quebec’s environment ministry and the area around it will be protected.

Once an area is protected, mining, road construction and any drainage activity are prohibited, while logging is forbidden during hatching season, Poulin said.

Planning conservation efforts 

Their data also helps the province plan for future conservation efforts.

Ministry biologist Amélie Fontaine told Radio-Canada that Quebec has been surveying the turtles since 1994. 

In 2018, researches began monitoring the same areas in four-year cycles to gain an understanding of how the population was doing over time. 

The most recent government survey, carried out this spring, found 35 turtles in six days along a section of the East Coulonge River that had been searched previously.

Fontaine said the new project will help the ministry better protect the animals, including the possibility of ecological corridors that would allow the turtles safe passage between their habitats.

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