Endangered western painted turtles get new beach

Hatchlings in Burnaby Lake Park moved for second time because of coal spill

A population of western painted turtles in Burnaby will soon have a clean new home, free of the chunks of metallurgical coal they have been living with since a train derailed in their backyard last year.

For the last few days, Deanna MacTavish and other members of the Coastal Painted Turtle Project have been digging turtle hatchlings out of a nesting beach near Silver Creek in Burnaby Lake Park.

The group built the beach in 2010 and turtles were thriving there until a Canadian Pacific train operated by a Canadian National crew on CN tracks derailed in January 2014, dumping coal into the creek.

When crews and officials arrived to clean up after the spill, they scrambled to dig up the nesting turtles before the machines moved in. The hatchlings that were saved were reared off site, then brought home later that spring.

“They were fine, they were totally fine,” MacTavish said. But while the crews “really did a good job” responding to the emergency, the beach was left in rough shape.

“Because there was heavy equipment that rolled onto there, there’s some issues with compaction of the sand and there’s still bits of coal that we’re finding in the sand.”

After MacTavish and other members of the group dig up the remaining turtles, Lafarge Aggregates — a partner of the painted turtle project — will dig up the old sand and replace it with fresh material.

For the second straight year, juveniles from the beach will be reared off site, then returned home. Adult turtles, which hibernate in mud underwater over winter, will remain on site.

“We definitely hope there are no disturbances down the road, but you never know,” MacTavish said. “Once we get that old sand out of there and the new sand in, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of nesting in 2016.”

The western painted turtle is endangered and it is the province’s only remaining native freshwater turtle, McTavish said. The group estimates there are about 150 adult turtles in the lake and an equal number of juveniles.

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