Huron Fringe Naturalists hear about threats facing turtle populations

Huron Fringe Naturalists hear about threats facing turtle populations

The Huron Fringe Field Naturalist (HFFN) club launched the new 2017/18 season with a great crowd of new and returning members and guests on Sept. 26, 2017 at the Pine River United Church.

President Gina Dalkin Davis welcomed everyone and introduced new club executive members; Vice President Lynn Johnston and Treasurer Onno Visser.

After a recap of summer activities and description of upcoming outings, HFFN Outings Director Tom Lobb introduced speaker Damien Mullin.

Mullin holds an undergraduate science degree with a zoology specialization from Laurentian University and is continuing toward earning a Master’s degree in science.

His work experience has included a variety of research and conservation studies of salamanders and turtles for Scales Nature Park, the Algonquin Wildlife Station and he has just completed his second season with the Huron Stewardship Council.

Mullin informed the audience that turtles are among the most endangered animals in the world and one prime reason derives from a quirk of reproductive evolution. While many large mammals are reproductively mature after only a few years, some species of turtles may live 17 years or more before reproducing.

There are eight species of turtles in Ontario and most can be found in the Lake Huron watershed. Seven species are considered at risk due to threats which can include habitat loss, poaching for the pet trade, harvesting for food and persecution. However, the greatest threat to turtles is road mortality.

Turtles are most visible in June as they search for suitable nesting sites. Many females travel several kilometres when nesting which, in Southern Ontario, increases the likelihood of crossing a road.

Mullin’s research involves a process called “headstarting”. To counteract low survival rates of eggs and hatchlings, nesting sites are monitored, turtle eggs are collected, hatched, and the young raised in captivity at the Toronto Zoo for one or two years.

To determine which length of time produces optimal results Mullin used radio transmitters attached to turtles’ shells to track a selection of subjects in three cohorts: hatchlings, one year olds and two year olds over several years.

Analysis of his findings concluded that the headstarted two year old group demonstrated superior survivorship.

From the start of the presentation, it was abundantly clear that Damien loves his work and his subject matter.

Mullin’s enthusiasm was inspiring and HFFN members found his anecdotes highly entertaining.

The next HFFN meeting takes place Oct. 24. Guest speaker is Dr. Janice Gilbert, a leading expert on management of the invasive species, Phragmites.