Lonely Planet Writer

This town in Ontario is saving the lives of tens of thousands of turtles

For decades, a causeway linking a biosphere reserve in Canada with the mainland of Ontario was a death zone for animals, including endangered turtles and snakes. Along a stretch of road just over two miles long – it was estimated that more than 10,000 animals were killed by traffic each year.

A Snapping Turtle sits in the middle of the road.
A Snapping Turtle sits in the middle of the road. Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

What was most depressing was that many of those driving along the route were themselves travellers and other visitors looking to see these very animals. And so something had to be done … an eleven-year-long conservation project has had dramatic results with the numbers of turtles trying to cross the road cut by a factor of ten. The answer was relatively simple: a fence and what are described as “turtle tunnels”.

The causeway in Ontario connects Long Point Bay and the marshy wetlands of Big Creek National Wildlife Area, all part of a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve. The area is home to an incredibly rich variety of wildlife including endangered species like Blanding’s turtles, snapping turtles, and Eastern fox snakes. Chantel Markle, a biologist involved in the project, explained to Lonely Planet: “the first step [was] to install fencing with the primary goal of keeping animals from accessing the road. However, this prevents animals from accessing and using habitat on either side of the road, which may be critical. [So] the second step is to install culverts or ‘turtle tunnels’ under the road to allow animals to cross safely under the road.”

A post shared by Nick (@swamprattler) on

When the road was completely fenced, there was an 89% reduction in the number of turtles on the road and half as many snakes. “We also found five different species of turtles using the culverts to cross safely under the road,” said Chantel Markle. The project was not without its difficulties, not least how to keep fences up in all different types of terrains. Ms Markle said: “in certain wet areas, we had to use a special fence material that could withstand these conditions, whereas in the upland, windy areas, we used a fence material that allowed wind to pass through it.
“Our hope is that our findings and lessons learned will help guide other road mortality projects or be beneficial to those just starting up.”