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UTRCA biologist earns award for his conservation work from Ontario Nature

Stratford Beacon Herald,
Beacon Herald Staff,
June 7 2016

Thanks to local conservation efforts, the Thames River is emerging as a "stronghold" for the spiny softshell turtle.

In other parts of Ontario and Quebec, the loss of nesting habitat has pushed the spiny softshell to the endangered species list, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) noted this week.

Locally, however, recovery efforts over the past two decades have yielded a better outcome.

"We continue to work hard to protect and recover this species, and since our recovery efforts have resulted in proven success in Canada, we can share this model for other sites where this turtle has active populations," said Scott Gillingwater, species at risk biologist for the UTRCA.

"As populations continue to decline in most areas, the Thames River has become a stronghold for this species in Canada, due in large part to over 20 years of recovery actions."

The spiny softshell population is declining overall in both Ontario and Quebec.

The species was previously on the threatened list compiled by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. That status, designated in 1991 and confirmed in 2012, was increased to endangered earlier this spring.

"Suitable nesting and basking sites have been lost and/or degraded by development, altered water regimes (e.g., dams, floods, erosion of river banks), invasive plants, recreational use, and illegal harvest of individuals," the UTRCA noted in a release.

"Without nest protection, few eggs survive predation by an increased abundance of mammals."

The UTRCA continues to work to recover several species at risk like the spiny softshell through habitat creation and protection, research, monitoring, release of young turtles and education programs.

For his ongoing efforts and successful results, Gillingwater was named the recipient of the W.W.H. Gunn conservation award from Nature Ontario earlier this month.

He was honoured for showing "outstanding personal service and a strong commitment to nature conservation over many years with exceptional results," the UTRCA said.

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