Think Turtle Conservation Initiative (TTCI), founded in 2018 is an award winning volunteer group engaged in education initiatives, safe passage and species recovery efforts in Bancroft, Ontario and neighboring communities. Utilizing evidence-based information and data in support of its mission, TTCI works with community leaders, organizational representatives and concerned citizens to drive change and build partnerships in pursuit of strategies to protect Ontario's turtles from the threat of extinction.
OUR STORY BEGINS
Although Think Turtle was founded in 2018, the advocacy efforts that contributed to it's inception actually began in 2016 when Toronto resident Kelly Wallace got the chance to spend time in Bancroft. While there she launched an awareness campaign to gain support to terminate the legalized hunting of snapping turtles in Ontario. During this period Kelly met a diverse group of people in the community ranging from people in support of ending the snapping turtle hunt, to people that did not support ending the hunt and people that had no idea snapping turtles were on the game list. These interactions made an impression and contributed to helping the collective efforts of many concerned citizens throughout Ontario garner a favorable outcome regarding the snapping turtle hunt. It was a long awaited day when, on March 31, 2017 the Ministry of Resources and Forestry (MNRF) officially announced the snapping turtle had been removed from the game list and the snapping turtle hunt in Ontario had been terminated!
On April 1, 2017, the day after the snapping turtle hunt was officially terminated Kelly, now residing in Bancroft set out to pursue further efforts to conserve and protect turtles locally and provincially, starting with the installation of turtle awareness signs at various concerning locations in Bancroft and neighboring communities that were frequented by turtle road crossings.
Since many of these concerning locations were within provincial jurisdiction, Kelly was referred to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and worked in conjunction with the mitigation lead for the Eastern Region MTO. Realizing it would take more then the turtle sightings of one person to support the need for turtle awareness signs, Kelly reached out to Bancroft and neighboring communities in hopes of connecting with concerned citizens that would contribute their turtle sightings. Kelly distributed posters and put notices in the local newspapers asking people to get in touch regarding any documented turtle sightings (alive/dead/injured) they had for the area. 97.7 Moose FM, the Bancroft Times and Bancroft This Week newspapers joined in and were a major help getting word out during this time.
The campaign for turtle sightings was aimed at identifying high risk turtle road mortality hot spots in the Bancroft and the surrounding area. The goal was to submit the data collected to the MTO for the purposes of it being validated for the approval of the MTO financing and installing official turtle awareness road signs. Along with signage there was the added hope of the data possibly contributing to the installation of permanent mitigation measures at any of the documented road mortality hot spots included with the data submitted October 2, 2017.
This all-encompassing community collaboration would prove to be very helpful in the quest to compile the data required by the MTO and MNRF to substantiate the need for turtle awareness road signs. From the data compiled and submitted MTO installed regulatory turtle awareness road signs along highway 62 between Bancroft and Madoc in 2018 prior to turtle nesting season commencing mid May. In 2020, this same data would go on to contribute to the installation of two mitigation sites along highway 62 south of Bancroft enabling turtles and other small wildlife in the area to safely travel through culverts under the roads instead of on them. These mitigation sites include; wildlife fencing installed in conjunction with a pre-exiting culverts to effectively direct turtles and other wildlife through the culvert. This enables turtles and other wildlife to travel under the road rather then on the road where they are are at risk of being struck by a motor vehicle.
During the 2017 turtle sightings campaign Kelly connected with many people and sensed an interest in wanting to know more about how they could help the turtles they observe during their travels and on their property. Surprisingly many people in the community did not know Ontario had a turtle hospital. After submitting the turtle sightings data and reports to the MTO Kelly decided it was time to pursue education initiatives starting with organizing turtle talks, a turtle festival to introduce the community to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, setting up at local events to increase awareness and put turtles on peoples radar. Once this course was decided upon it seemed the time had come to put these conservation efforts under one umbrella and so in February 2018, Think Turtle Conservation Initiative was founded.
To start turtle season off with a celebration of turtles and increase awareness unbeknownst to people in the community Think Turtle teamed up with Knittervention to surprise the town of Bancroft on May 18th with a turtle themed 'Yarn Bomb!' It was a memorably day when people ventured into Bancroft to discover the main street, storefronts, the town signs adorned with over '200' crocheted and knitted turtles of every size, shape and color. The turtles were on display for the week to celebrate 'World Turtle Day' on May 23rd! This unique approach to raising awareness went viral and made a lasting impression that is still talked about.
Since 2018, Think Turtle Conservation Initiative has worked non-stop to raise awareness and engage in conservation efforts to effectively help turtles locally and provincially. None of these efforts would be possible year to year without the support of the community and the assistance of dedicated volunteers. Working together to protect one of Ontario's most vulnerable species we have made a difference and helped the eight turtle species native to Ontario maintain their earthly presence.
This unique approach to raising awareness went viral and made a lasting impression that is still talked about.