As part of the project to build two safe nesting sites for the Coastal Western Painted Turtle

Beach built for endangered turtles

Nicomen Slough near Lake Errock sees two nesting beaches built for Coastal Western Painted Turtle

An endangered turtle that breeds on a site near Lake Errock now has a safer place to lay and hatch eggs.

The Coastal Western Painted Turtle is only found in a couple breedings sites in B.C., one being the Nicomen Slough about 10 minutes from Lake Errock. Last Friday, March 27, the turtles got two beaches to call their own along the slough.

Deanna MacTavish is a wildlife biologist with the Coastal Painted Turtle Project.

“Nicomen Slough has one of the largest populations in the province of Coastal Painted Turtles,” shares MacTavish.

The Nicomen Slough makes good habitat for the turtles as the waters are fairly shallow and warm, with lots of food sources for the resident population. Approximately 300 of the 1,000 western painted turtles in BC. are found in the Nicomen Slough, making it a significant location for conservation work.

“They’re doing pretty well in this area so far and we just want to ensure they continue to do well,” says MacTavish.

Before Friday’s beach construction, there was a lack of suitable nesting habitat along the Nicomen Slough. Females were found nesting on the dike, where people often drive their ATVS. They nested on gravel roads which are hard to dig into and are obviously not safe, as well as on people’s boat launches.

The Coastal Painted Turtle Project, alongside community partners including the Nicomen Island Improvement District and the Le’qa:mel First Nation, came together to help create nesting habitat and increase the resident population.

On Friday, March 27, they built two separate nesting beaches for the sole use of the turtle. The land was cleared of invasive blackberries and gravel was donated to build up the beaches. Lafarge Canada donated the sand and volunteers came to put it all together.

The sandy, quiet area will be “ideal” for them, states MacTavish. “If we find a turtle nesting on the road, we can now move her to the beach.”

Coastal Painted Turtle Project members monitor the nesting locations and help protect nesting sites by placing cages over top to keep them safe from predators. Organizers hope these two new beaches will encourage the population at Nicomen Slough to thrive.

The Western Painted Turtle, which has an intricately-designed black and red shell along with yellow stripes down the face, arms and legs, is B.C.’s only remaining native freshwater turtle. MacTavish says there are several threats to this species, all from human activity.

“They’ve been dealt a pretty raw deal in terms of development on the south coast,” says MacTavish. “Pollution and runoff from farmer’s fields makes them sick. We lose a lot of them to fishing and to cars.”

This species is also found along the coast of Washington, Oregon and northern part of California. In B.C. The only other breeding site in the south coast is at Burnaby lake. There are also a few breeding sites on the Sunshine coast and Vancouver Island.