Saving Grace

PLEASE NOTE- This fundraiser has been changed to one that raised money for our volunteer efforts to monitor Grace and other turtles, which raised $3500.00 to this revised campaign to save wetlands and key habitats that turtles, like Grace the ancient one-eyed snapper.


Saving Grace- All turtles are at risk in Haliburton County as necessary controls are not in place to protect wetlands.

Grace is the oldest female snapping turtle in our collective records that lives in Ontario's Highlands- Cottage Country.  Not only is she at least 125 years old (she could be as old as 250 based on research at Algonquin Park by Dr. Ron Brooks), but she is a one-eyed turtle and has survived for all these years moving throughout her territory and crossing major roads in downtown Haliburton village each year to get from her hibernation site to her feeding and mating sites. Thus we gave her the name Grace. 

Grace is known to families, highschoolers, the high school principle, across Haliburton who have encountered her from time to time for many many years, some, since their own childhoods. She is unmistakable. 

Grace has been observed in consecutive years to choose to hibernate in  a local wetland by the Haliburton Secondary School that is dissected by Gelert Road.  

Turtles will generally hibernate in the same wetland year after year, and many often within 1 metre of the location they chose the year before. Turtles may adjust to new hibernation sites out of necessity as long as they are within their territories, but they naturally gravitate to regular sites that they have used if key portions or features are still intact. 

Hibernation sites are critical habitats for their survival. 

They find these wetlands and are able to repeatedly navigate to them as turtles make spatial memories, etching the pathways to them since their earliest years. In fact, turtles cannot readily be relocated or move to new sites because after the age of about 5, their brain plasticity is drastically reduced so that they cannot readily form new memories of this kind easily and would likely wander lost often becoming so distressed that they will not eat.

Also, hibernation sites for most of Ontario's turtle species are those unassuming often small and still wetland areas that we humans would think were uninteresting or unimportant. These wetlands are actually wonderful to turtles because the water levels are regular and they can count on ice over to insulate waters beneath and also for the oxygen levels to stay stable- because when turtles hibernate they are virtually helpless- their hearts beat only a few times a minute as their entire metabolism and functions are slowed- and this includes their immune systems and mobility. Therefore they have found areas that they can trust to have more stable temperatures and therefore reliable oxygen levels too. It is therefore, very likely that this wetland complex which Grace has chosen in past years, is the same one she has used for many years before this...and also it is likely given the spring basking that occurs in the ditches on either side of the road before turtles are fully agile, that this same wetland complex was chosen by other turtles too. 

This little wetland is not only important to Grace, it is important to other turtles and endangered species, and is therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act.  The site also acts as a catch basin that soaks up water that would otherwise flood the main road that dissects it. Perhaps for all these reasons, the municipality also zoned this wetland "Environmentally Protected (EP)". 

Turtles are also keystone species- this  means that they  hold up entire food webs.  When they are young they consume mainly protein and as scavengers this means they clean up all those carcasses of frogs , pollywogs or other sources of major bac bacteria that are at the bottom of our lakes and wetlands. Without this janitorial role, bacteria levels in lakes could become critical.  Then, as turtles get older they consume more plant and seeds, and the digestion of the seeds make them viable for germination. Therefore, as turtles move through their territories from upland to lowland, they spread these seeds that are now ready to grow, and thus create more fish nurseries and wetland plants that host dragonflies, and even feed moose.  So turtles are great gardeners too. Without turtles we have essentially lost ecological security  as turtles support water quality and wetlands that are essential to over 70% of fish and wildlife in Ontario. 

And we have already lost over 50% of turtles- and likely the number is as high as 70%. With such a slow replacement rate, each adult breeding turtle is essential providing some hope that we may be able to turn the tides- and each natural hibernation site is critical to their survival. 

BUT THIS WEEK- the landowner who owns a chunk of this essential wetland began major efforts to fill in main wetland basin on his property, which, if turtles are under, will change the temperature be changing the ice cover and therefore change the oxygen levels ...and in the spring as things warm up the basin will be overcome with this fill.  The municipality, whose responsibility it is to protect lands they deem EP,  and despite the desire of the bylaw officer, does not seem to have sufficient policies in place to actually protect the zoning they assigned, and from all accounts don't have other levers in place for wetlands.  We are hopeful the Ministry (OMECP)  will at least do their part despite their roles and related legislation being to affect reaction time  (the powers of the local Conservation Officers in OMNRF which used to cover the protection of Endangered Species are now with OMECP ). 

We don't know if Grace is buried or is safely hibernating across the road, or if other amazing shelled friends are in jeopardy here but we do know that there are failures that need to be righted, and and for all wetlands in this community, today and for the future. 

Turtles take at least 60 years to be replaced in nature because of very low recruitment rates (eggs and young turtles facing many threats), late maturity and niche requirements. (The loss of turtles such as Grace or other older species too, would mean the loss of generations of turtles from these elders, which has affects on the viability of local populations overall. 

Destruction to wetlands, headwaters, and essential wildlife habitats without necessity and due review processes should never be allowed to happen! 
The Land Between charity (and their Turtle Guardians) will be chronicling the gaps to outline necessary policy levers to help ensure that our municipality can effectively protect our heritage and our wildlife for the foreseeable future.   Help us chart this course ! 

Stay in touch with us, and help us with capacity to reach these goals- for staff to summarize our turtle research and to continue to track and monitor turtles and characterize essentials wetlands, floodlands, and headwaters, to assemble a guide for our councils and our communities, and to approach all local leaders in their need to do better for those with no voice.- the wildlife and wild spaces that provide us with so much benefit, from water regulation and filtration, fish breeding grounds, medicines, foods, pollination, to generations of keystone stabilizing forces such as turtles too!    
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Ltt Berman
Haliburton, ON
The Land Between
Registered nonprofit
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