The Snapping turtle was listed as species of “Special Concern” under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act in 2008. Although it is technically still legal to hunt snappers with a valid fishing license, continued harvest of this vulnerable species could lead to further declines. Hunting removes breeding-aged adults from the population just as road mortality does, and this is exactly the segment of the population that can’t afford to be lost.
Eating turtles is not any better for the body than it is for the conscience. As a long lived species with a varied diet, snapping turtles are known to accumulate dangerous toxins such as heavy metal and PCBs from their environment. In fact, in many areas in Ontario the concentration of these toxins in their tissue make them unsafe for consumption.
In 2011, we conducted a survey of mercury and PCB levels in snapping turtles, in conjunction with Ontario Nature and the David Suzuki Foundation. The samples were collected from turtles killed on roads across Ontario. Along with these results, a report was written as an aid to halt the harvest of snapping turtles in Ontario ( see “The Road to Extinction” ). Sadly, in Ontario it is still legal to harvest snapping turtles for consumption, despite the fact that populations cannot tolerate this loss of adults.
We hope to continue this project once funding is available for further monitoring. Turtles act as natural bioindicators for the environment, due to their long life and omnivorous habits. The levels of toxins in them affect not only their health, but reflects the health of the environment they live in.