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Improve Turtle Habitat

… at home or at the cottage

turtle on a dock

You likely share your lake or river with some scaly neighbours! (photo by C Gilders)

A major threat to turtle populations in our province is the ongoing loss of turtle habitat due in large part to shoreline development along lakes and rivers. While these are prime locations for the summer cottage, they are also the home and nesting areas of many turtle species, which are very sensitive to shoreline alterations.

As a lakeside home or cottage owner, there are many things you can do to improve turtle habitat on your property. The key is to keep your shoreline as natural as possible. If there have already been severe alterations of the natural shoreline you can rehabilitate these unnatural shorelines by removing things like retaining walls to make them suitable for turtles once again.

In keeping with this simple, “go natural” philosophy, it is very important to plant native shrubs and trees (like dogwoods, shrub willows, meadowsweet, Joe-pye weed, and swamp milkweed to name a few!) and keep an un-mown strip or buffer of this native vegetation 10-15 meters deep along your shoreline.

Turtles love to bask on old logs or large rocks, so let that fallen log lie on the shore to become part of the natural habitat. When installing a dock, choose either a floating or cantilever model, and make sure to keep your boat speed less than 10 km/hr when you are close to the shore.

Finally, it is critical for both turtles and the other aquatic inhabitants of lakes and ponds that the water in which they live be kept free of harmful chemicals. So avoid using fertilizers and pesticides, and have septic tanks inspected and pumped every 2-3 years if possible. The turtles will thank you for it, and in turn you will be helping to ensure that Ontario turtles will continue to call these lakes of ours home for years to come.

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