Wood Turtle Monitoring & Stewardship

We're working with community members to conserve and protect wood turtles and their habitat in the Annapolis River watershed. 

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Have you seen a Wood Turtle?

Public reports of wood turtles are an incredibly important source of information. Public reports help us learn about the areas Wood Turtles use as habitat, so we can focus our conservation and stewardship activities more effectively. Public reports that include a clear photo of the turtle's top shell (carapace) can also be used to track the movement of individual turtles in the case that the turtle observed was previously notched. 

If you have a farm in southwest Nova Scotia that may provide habitat for Wood Turtles, we want to hear from you! We have funding to help producers trial beneficial management practices for Wood Turtles and their habitat. E-mail us to learn more. 

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About the Wood Turtle

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic turtle, ranging in size from 16 to 25 cm in length as adults. The carapace is gray-brown in colour with a sculptured woody appearance, caused by pyramidal circular rings or growth lines. The plastron is yellow with a pattern of black or dark coloured blotches and has no hinge. The skin on the head and upper body of the wood turtle is often dark brown, while the skin on the throat, tail and undersides of the legs is often yellow, orange or red in colour. They are a long-lived species, reaching sexual maturity between the ages of 11to 22 (with 16 years being the average). In the wild, wood turtles have an average lifespan of 30 years.

Human caused threats to wood turtles in Canada include accidental mortality as a result of vehicles or agricultural equipment, habitat loss and degradation, such as residential and commercial development, forestry practices, water management, and changes in ecological dynamics or natural processes, such as subsidized predation (Environment Canada, 2015). The illegal collection as pets or for consumption has also been identified as a potential threat. In the Annapolis River watershed, which includes extensive road networks and a relatively large amount of land in agricultural production, accidental mortality as a result of collisions with vehicles or farming equipment are significant threats to wood turtles.

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Species-at-Risk Status

In Nova Scotia, the wood turtle was first listed under the Nova Scotia Endangered species act as vulnerable in 2000. After re-examination this designation was changed to threatened in 2013. These designations are largely imparted because of the wood turtle’s sensitivity to human activities and land use practices.

 

The Nova Scotia Species at Risk Act outlines regulations that protect listed species such as the wood turtle. It is illegal to kill, harm or harass wood turtles. You can view the full list of regulations online. It is also illegal to keep turtles as pets in Nova Scotia.

 

In Canada, the wood turtle is currently listed as threatened under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The wood turtle was first added to the SARA Registry in 1996 as a species of special concern, and re-examined and listed as threatened in Schedule 1 of SARA in 2010.


Environment Canada (2015) has determined the recovery of the wood turtle in Canada to be both technically and biologically feasible. Conservation efforts are guided federally by the Recovery Strategy for Wood Turtles in Canada (2020), which has also been adopted as Nova Scotia's recovery plan. 

Carapace (top shell)

Plastron (bottom shell)

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The overall goal of our Wood Turtle Monitoring and Stewardship project is to ensure the long-term persistence of the wood turtle and its habitat in the Annapolis River watershed.

Project objectives include:

  • monitoring the movement patterns and distribution of wood turtles in the watershed through the use of radio telemetry;

  • assessing habitat use by sub-populations in the Annapolis River watershed;

  • implementing an outreach program to engage communities within the watershed to create awareness and promote education about the ecological needs and importance of the wood turtle;

  • recruiting, training and re-training volunteers in project activities, in order to build organizational capacity and develop a skilled and engaged volunteer base;

  • engaging landowners and stakeholders in the development and adoption of stewardship activities tailored to land uses around confirmed wood turtle habitat in the watershed

 

The success of the Wood Turtle Monitoring and Stewardship project is greatly attributed to the tremendous community support that CARP has received. This project is driven by volunteers who help with all aspects of the project. ​Key elements of the project include...

Visual surveys

Visual surveys of known or suspected wood turtle habitats allow CARP to identify new individual turtles, and collect mark-recapture data for previously recorded turtles. Data is collected on standardized data cards and shared in the Nova Scotia Species at Risk database and with the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center.  

Radio-telemetry and satellite tracking

CARP has a limited number of radio-transmitter and satellite tracker units that can be equipped to individual turtles so that their movements can be tracked over time. Telemetry units are equipped to the outside of the turtle’s shell and do not cause harm to them. The data collected from tracking provides information about habitat use and movement patterns. It is important to note that a special permit and training are required in order to conduct radio-telemetry of wood turtles.

Nest surveys, protection and monitoring

During the wood turtle nesting season in June, surveys are conducted in areas of known or suspected nesting habitat. If a turtle is observed laying a nest, a protective cover is placed over it in order to prevent predators from eating the eggs. After eggs have incubated for 60 days covered nests must to be checked daily, so that emerging hatchlings can be released. 

Voluntary stewardship plan development

Our project leader works collaboratively with private land owners to develop stewardship plans. These plans provide recommendations that landowners can implement to benefit wood turtles and their habitat. 

To learn more, check out our "Wood Turtle Stewardship" background document. 

If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities please contact us

Public education and outreach

CARP prepares and delivers a variety of educational materials, activities and presentations in communities across the Annapolis River watershed and beyond. Outreach and education objectives include raising awareness about the wood turtle and its species at risk listing, and increasing public knowledge of the actions that can be implemented to help this species and its habitat. 

Public outreach resources

CARP has developed a variety of educational and outreach materials that are available for use or reproduction by other groups working on wood turtle recovery in Nova Scotia and beyond. We ask that you do not alter these materials without permission. 

Wood turtle interpretive panel 24" x 36" interpretive panel focused on the wood turtle. Bilingual 

Freshwater turtles on Nova Scotia - 24" x 36 interpretive panels featuring all four freshwater turtles of Nova Scotia. English version. French version

Turtle habitat road sign - 60 x 60 cm square sign for use in high-traffic areas. Please note you must obtain a permit from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal prior to installation. You should also contact the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables to confirm the appropriateness of the proposed location. 

Wood turtle background information 2 pages back and front, background information about wood turtles and their species at risk status. 

Have you seen a wood turtle? Business card - wallet-sized identification and reporting information. 

Have you seen a wood turtle? Poster8.5 x 11" poster with identification and reporting information. 

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