By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer
Friday, May 26, 2017 5:13:23 EDT PM
The organizers of the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project are bracing for a wave of inquiries now that their efforts have been featured in a prestigious wildlife journal.
Readers in this part of Ontario will have seen updates on the project over the past 10 years. That experience went international Friday when an in-depth article was posted on the Wildlife Society Bulletin website.
Rick Levick of Toronto, co-ordinator of the causeway project, expects to field numerous emails and phone calls from individuals and wildlife professionals who want to reduce the mortality rate of vulnerable snakes, turtles and amphibious populations in their communities.
“When we started on this, we thought there would be a lot of other experiences to draw on,” Levick said. “What we found was we were on our own. We had to adapt and learn as we went along.”
The Long Point Causeway is a 3.6-kilometre road running north and south between the town of Port Rowan and the resort community of Long Point.
In 2003, Levick and others decided to act after a study concluded that the turtle roadkill rate on the causeway was among the highest in the world.
Problems started in 1928 when the causeway was built to connect the mainland with the resort area to the south. The roadway divided the 1,927-acre Big Creek Marsh from Long Point Bay.
That wasn’t much of a problem until the 1950s. That’s when four bridges were removed and replaced with earthen berms. Suddenly, wildlife that was used to moving between the ecosystems had to climb the shoulders to cross the road.
Splattered wildlife was a common sight on the causeway until recently. Researchers estimate as many as 10,000 animals were killed on the road between Port Rowan and Long Point each year.
Roadkill involving turtles is especially problematic. Some species of turtles don’t lay eggs until they are 20 years old.
Over those two decades, there will be many opportunities in places like Long Point to get hit by a car. The loss is especially tragic when the turtle killed is old and has a track record of productivity.
Over the past 10 years, Levick and the causeway committee pieced together $2.7 million in funding for the installation of 12 culverts. These serve as “eco-passages” beneath the traffic. The result has been a dramatic decrease in the number of dead animals.
Levick and his colleagues know roadkill is a serious problem in other ecologically-sensitive parts of the world. He is ready and willing to share with anyone who wants to benefit from his experience.
To that end, Chantel Markle, a doctoral candidate in biology at McMaster University in Hamilton, was brought in four years ago to monitor the project and write its story from a scientific perspective. Markle’s article went up on the Wildlife Society Bulletin website Friday afternoon.
“It shows that people in a community can make a difference – that they can work together to preserve biodiversity,” Markle said. “It shows other communities that – if they are concerned – there are things they can do.”
The ecopassages serve a dual purpose in that they have restored the free flow of water between Long Point Bay and the Big Creek Marsh. This has improved water quality in the marsh while allowing fish from Lake Erie to reproduce in traditional spawning areas.
Norfolk County’s contribution to the eco-passages project was minimal and essentially confined to in-kind services. Major sources of funding include Environment & Climate Change Canada ($1.5 million), the Ontario Government’s Species-at-Risk Stewardship Fund ($600,000), and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service Foundation ($300,000).