Endangered turtles hit hard by cool spring, Thames River flooding – The London Free Press



It’s not a good year to be a Thames River turtle.

Populations of the endangered spiny softshell variety – hatchlings released each year by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) – have been dealt a significant blow in 2018.

Last summer, the London-area conservation agency released 6,000 hatchlings into the watershed. This year they’ve got half as many.

Kaela Paddick, a research assistant, holds a spiny softshell turtle in the middle of hatching out at their lab at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in London, Ont. on Friday August 21, 2015. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

“There are fewer hatchlings this year, possibly due to the very cool weather in April and May, or the major flooding that occurred in late winter,” species-at-risk biologist Scott Gillingwater said in a statement.

“Climate change will continue to make our work more difficult, with extreme heat and strong storm events leading to flooding which causes turtle eggs to fail.”

The spiny softshell turtle is endangered provincially and federally. Only a small number of baby turtles become adults because of predators, fish hooks and nets, habitat loss and harvesting for pets and food.

UTRCA biologists try to protect the eggs and release as many hatchlings as possible every year.

Decades ago, studies showed barely any spiny softshell turtle eggs survived on their own. But since UTRCA staff and volunteers began conservation efforts 25 years ago, the number of turtles in all age groups has increased in the local population, the agency said.