The Georgian Bay Reptile Conservation Program is a broad, landscape-level multi-species conservation effort composed of three synergistic parts:
- the new Georgian Bay Conservation, Action, Research, and Education about Snakes (CARES) Project,
- the pre-existing Saving Turtles at Risk Today (START) Project, and
- a public outreach and education component implemented across the watershed.
Led by Scales Nature Park (“Scales”) and supported by numerous community partners, the program targets six eastern Georgian Bay Species at Risk (SAR) reptiles including the: Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus), Eastern foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi), Eastern hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), Eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odouratus), and Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), while also benefiting five other federal SAR reptiles.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited project activities in 2020, however project staff prioritized fieldwork from April to September to confirm Massasauga rattlesnake hibernation and gestation sites, delineate distribution characteristics, and record observations of other target SAR species. Staff also delivered virtual community training workshops; recruited and trained volunteers on SAR reptile identification, handling, and tissue collection from dead specimens; processed hotline reports whereby public report sightings of SAR reptiles; and drafted a standard protocol for turtle nest caging, excavation, and egg incubation.
When public outreach was severely impacted by the pandemic, staff transitioned to online educational programming by shifting funds from outreach mileage to video broadcast and recording equipment. Through this effort, Scales was able to hire an additional staff member to develop audio/video and online materials, liaise with local school boards to advance education programming and even support fellow conservation groups with online programming. Scales was also able to create and publish a video showcasing the new Georgian Bay Conservation Action, Research, and Education about Snakes (CARES) Project.
Project activities delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but planned for 2021 include:
- Affixing transmitters to Spotted turtles,
- Delivering education presentations and workshops,
- Conducting landowner interviews,
- Continuing community training workshops and volunteer recruitment, and
- Presenting project results at regional or national conference(s).
The fulsome Georgian Bay Reptile Conservation Program will continue into 2021 with additional funding support from GMI. The results of this work in 2021 will be updated in early 2022.