Long Point’s work to prevent turtle, snake road deaths lauded
LONG POINT — A rural Ontario community’s work to prevent endangered reptiles from being killed on a 3.6-kilometre stretch of road — once considered among the world’s deadliest for turtles — is being held up as a successful example of how to protect vulnerable wildlife.
A new research paper, published Friday in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, details Long Point’s construction of roadway fencing and culverts — tunnels used for animal travel — to decrease the numbers of turtles and snakes dying on the Long Point Causeway in a southwestern part of the province.
The road connecting the Long Point Peninsula on Lake Erie and mainland Ontario was ranked as the world’s fourth deadliest site for turtle road mortality in 2003. Researchers also estimated that since 1979, as many as 10,000 animals per year were killed by traffic on the two-lane stretch.
The study found, however, that the community’s work to protect the reptiles living in wetlands surrounding the causeway has reduced the number of turtles venturing onto the road by 89 per cent over 10 years, while the number of snakes going onto the road dropped by 28 per cent.
Researchers say the efforts around Long Point could be a useful model for other communities located near fragile ecosystems around the world.
Study lead researcher Chantel Markle of McMaster University said it’s important to tackle the issue of road mortality head-on, especially for turtles that are particularly susceptible to the issue.
“Turtles have delayed sexual maturity, so some species can’t reproduce until up to 20 years old,” Markle said. “This makes the adult turtles really important to the population … When you have road mortality, even a few adults killed every year can have major negative impact on the population.”
The effort to protect the reptiles of Long Point — dubbed the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project — began in 2006 when community members gathered to discuss the issue.
Rick Levick, project manager and a cottager in the area, said people felt it was important to conserve the species that live in the Big Creek National Wildlife Area, a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve that borders the causeway.
Some of those species, including the Blanding’s, spotted and snapping varieties of turtle, are either considered at significant risk or listed as endangered species.
Levick said community members began raising funds to put in the infrastructure necessary to keep animals off the roads.
A snapping turtle considers its options after laying her eggs on a mound of sand placed near the Long Point Causeway.