Western Painted Turtle

Photo – Andrew Patrick


Nanaimo’s Western Painted Turtle Ambassador Program

NALT is excited to share a new Western Painted Turtle project that we are launching this year with our partners in the City of Nanaimo’s Parks, Recreation and Culture department, the provincial ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship and Nature Trust. Our Western Painted Turtle Ambassador program will get community members involved in stewardship of this threatened species, while at the same time helping us to collect valuable data on turtle population dynamics and nesting at Buttertubs Marsh.

Currently, little is known about the state of our Western Painted Turtle population at Buttertubs. How many turtles are there? Are their numbers holding steady, increasing, or declining? Are they able to successfully nest, and are there enough hatchlings surviving into adulthood? In the past, the use of wildlife cameras set up by the province, and visual surveys done by Nature Trust field crews have provided us with a bit of a picture into the activities and behaviours of the turtles. For example, we have learned higher numbers of turtles prefer to nest on the Buttertubs dike compared to the nesting beach on the decommissioned trail at the northeastern edge of the marsh. A study done in the summer of 2012 by VIU student Stephanie Thorpe also indicates that there are greater numbers of the invasive red-eared slider than there are our native Western Painted turtle at Buttertubs, though this might be due more to the tendency of the Sliders to outcompete the Painted turtles for use of basking logs, forcing the painted turtles to bask on shoreline vegetation and making them difficult to spot.

Photo – Warren Cronan

In 2021 we launched our volunteer-based basking survey program, where volunteers went out to possible turtle habitat sites during basking season and checked for presence of Western Painted Turtles. We went to locations where the public had submitted observations to the province, but those observations were not confirmed by qualified professionals, usually due to a lack of photographic evidence, or the quality of submitted photos not allowing a confirmation of species. This work has resulted in the confirmation of WPT at Sywash marsh in Lantzville, as well as the confirmation of nesting happening at that site. As we continue with that work with our small but dedicated team of volunteers, we determined that additional data collection on nesting is needed to better assist with planning potential habitat restoration activities.

In 2023, we also launched our Western Painted Turtle Ambassador program at Buttertubs, where teams of community volunteers (Ambassadors!) would walk the marsh during the peak nesting time (early evening) from May to July. Ambassadors would observe and record WPT nesting activity and protect nests from predators with caging. Ambassadors recorded 31 nesting activity observations and protected 24 nests! Because of this dedicated effort we now better understand where nesting activity takes place (primarily on the dike trail and outside the marsh in the affordable housing complex on Buttertubs Drive). We also discovered how vulnerable our native turtles are to nest predation: unprotected (or poorly protected) nests were predated within hours of being laid! Thanks to the nest protection efforts we counted at least 6 nests that successfully produced WPT hatchlings – Hooray!

Our Ambassador program is eager to recruit more volunteers. Volunteers walk Buttertubs Marsh during the nesting season (mid-May to late July) at peak nesting hours (approximately 6:30 – 8:30pm), collect data on any nesting activities that are observed, and place caging to prevent predators like raccoons and crows from getting to the nest. Please email the Stewardship Manager if you would like to get involved!