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Upper Thames River; Population booms for endangered spiny softshell turtles

Upper Thames River; Population booms for endangered spiny softshell turtles

More than 6,000 baby turtles will be making their way back into the Thames River Wednesday morning.

The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority said the spiny softshell turtles have had a record year in terms of numbers and range in the area. The species was originally placed on the province’s species-at-risk list as threatened in 2008 and were named endangered last year.

Being a threatened species means it is at risk of becoming endangered in the future. Being endangered means it is at risk of extinction throughout its normal geographic range.

Kayla Orton, a species-at-risk field assistant, credits the large number of hatchlings to the reptile research and recovery program hosted by the conservation authority. She said it is “one of the longest running and most successful” programs in Canada.

In the 1990s, they began protecting turtle nests with chicken wire cages but Orton said it made them too obvious for poachers to find. Now, they incubate the eggs in a lab and set the baby turtles free near their original nest.

“This year, we protected over 400 nests,” Orton said. “Finally seeing them hatch feels like our hard work has paid off.”

The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority has noted that spiny softshell turtle nesting sites have been disrupted and lost through development, dams, erosion of river banks, invasive plants, recreational use along river banks and the illegal harvest of turtles.

“As long as we keep doing (this), hopefully they’ll continue to persist,” Orton said. “Until better measures are found it’s necessary for us to keep them alive.”

On Wednesday at 11 a.m., the hatchlings will be released at the Upper Thames organization’s Watershed Conservation Centre.

shmehta@postmedia.com

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