Making roads safer for at-risk turtles in national parks in Ontario

When it comes to turtles, Southern Ontario is the place to be. This area includes the region of Ontario located south of Algonquin Park, and has the highest density of turtles and the most variety of turtle species in Canada. There are eight species of turtles in Ontario, but unfortunately, they are all listed as species at risk.

Southern Ontario also has the highest density of roads in Canada. This density of roads results in road mortality being one of the biggest threats to turtles. To help these species at risk, Parks Canada is working with partners to make it easier for animals – including turtles – to cross busy park roads.

A map of Ontario, south of Algonquin provincial park shows the number of turtles admitted to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre. The different turtle species are represented by colour coded dots, which are most concentrated in the area of the Greater Toronto Area.
Map showing number of turtles admitted to Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) in 2020.
Map Description

Turtle admissions are shown as different coloured dots representing various species. Yellow dots represent Blanding’s turtles, green dots represent Northern Map turtles, orange dots represent Painted turtles, blue dots represent Musk turtles, purple dots represent non-native turtles, black dots represent Snapping turtles, and red dots represent other species.


Why road safety is so important for turtles

A Parks Canada team member gently holds up a baby Painted turtle revealing the stunning orange pattern of its lower shell and yellow and red markings on its face and neck.
A baby Painted turtle displaying the distinct orange pattern of its lower shell.

Most turtle species live at least 30 to 40 years and some species can live over 100 years! But turtles are very slow to mature — taking between 8 to 20 years, depending on the species. Unfortunately, only about 1% of hatchling and juvenile turtles survive to this age. Losing any adult turtle can be devastating for a population.

Plus, turtles don’t just cross roads to find habitat, many are actually drawn to roads to use the soft sandy, gravel shoulder to lay their eggs. This means that during their nesting season in the spring, turtles are being put in harm’s way even more.


What Parks Canada is doing to help


Grainy trail camera image captures a mature Snapping turtle as it moves through an underground eco-passage. In this way, the turtle is able to safely cross underneath the roadway.
Trail camera footage captures a Snapping turtle making use of the eco-passage to safely cross underneath the road.

Parks Canada is helping get to the root of the problem by changing the infrastructure of roads within national parks to be safer for wildlife. With help from Indigenous communities, partners, and volunteers, Eco-passages and exclusion fencing are being installed along road mortality 'hotspots' within national parks in Ontario. These are locations where a high number of reptiles and amphibians have been run over by vehicles.

Eco-passages are specialized wildlife tunnels which allow animals to cross roads. Exclusion fencing also helps by guiding the animals towards the Eco-passages. Together, the fencing and passages allow species to cross underneath busy roads safely.

Parks Canada continues to track how well these systems work, and so far, the results are positive. For example, more than 6,700 animals have safely crossed roads using Eco-passages in Bruce Peninsula National Park since 2018.

Research showed a significant reduction of wildlife mortality around a section of road where Rouge National Urban Park’s second Eco-passage project was completed in 2019. They also did not find any wildlife mortality around a section of road where a culvert was both retrofitted and fenced.


Traffic management

Parks Canada team member proudly stands next to new road signage in Rouge National Urban Park. Sign features an image of a turtle on the road, and reads: I am slow. Give me a brake!
The Give Me a Brake campaign urges drivers in Rouge National Urban Park to give turtles a “brake”.

Despite efforts to help wildlife avoid roads, there will still be some that find their way onto roadways within national parks. To reduce this risk, Parks Canada is also introducing new traffic management measures.

Increasing wildlife crossing signs has been effective in reducing wildlife road mortality by increasing driver attentiveness. In 2021, Rouge National Urban Park introduced several wildlife crossing signs throughout the park. At least one serious collision with an animal was reported as being avoided thanks to the signage. Rouge also partnered with the city of Pickering for a “Give me a brake” billboard campaign. The billboards encouraged drivers to slow down to allow wildlife time to cross roads. Fortunately, speed was reduced where the signs were installed.

This year, Point Pelee National Park will also be reducing speed limits within the park, increasing wildlife crossing and speed limit signs, and adding speed bumps to the main park road, all in an effort to make roads safer for wildlife (and people!).

What you can do to help

You can help save turtles too! Turtles on the road, including outside of Parks Canada places, need our help. Check out this article to find out how to safely help a turtle cross the road.

There are also national parks in Ontario that are looking for volunteers to help with turtle conservation projects. Visit your local national park’s website to find out more!

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