Provincial biologists, researchers and citizen scientists are learning more about western painted turtles and their place in Nanaimo’s wetlands.
Connie Miller-Retzer, a ecosystems biologist with the Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development’s ecosystems section is involved in work that continues to enhance knowledge about western painted turtles on mid- Vancouver Island.
The turtles’ Pacific coast population was designated as endangered by the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada and is listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. This includes species that are endangered, threatened, of special concern or have become extinct in Canada. In B.C., the turtle – which lives in Nanaimo’s wetlands, including Buttertubs Marsh – is ranked as imperilled by the B.C. Conservation Data Centre.
Miller-Retzer said recent data has been gleaned from online citizen science sites and people reporting their observations of the turtles in areas where researchers erected signs to raise public awareness about the reptiles.
“Combining all that data together has yielded us quite a lot of new distribution information that we didn’t have before, so that’s really great and it means that we can do a better job of trying to manage for them,” Miller-Retzer said.
She said NALT and the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute, based at Vancouver Island University, are planning to study the turtles this year, which she said is “great timing” and said the province will be collaborating on that work.
The Pacific coast population is a subspecies of the western painted turtle only found on Canada’s West Coast and the only remaining turtle species that is native to British Columbia. Miller-Retzer said turtles are heavily impacted by development and about 60 per cent of the world’s turtle species are threatened and endangered.
“We have lots of red-eared sliders that are not a native species that we got from the pet trade and from people releasing their turtles and they are a problem because they compete with the native species and they spread disease,” Miller-Retzer said.
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