About 10 years ago, Andrew Fuyarchuk was eating lunch outside his local library when he noticed something strange – a man fishing turtles out of a nearby pond and tossing them in a bucket.
The disturbing sight not only piqued his interest, but ultimately led the Yorkville University General Studies professor to embark upon a decade-long passion project to combat turtle poaching in his Markham Stouffville community and beyond.
“I’ve got an eye and a love for nature, so it was natural for me to notice what was going on with the turtles. I realized pretty early on that this was organized poaching and that people were doing it for profit, but I had no idea of the scale at the time,” Fuyarchuk said, noting that turtles are often poached for the food, medicine, and pet trades.
“At first I thought it was just local people doing it for pocket money. But when I noticed them disappearing from my local pond in large numbers, that’s when I got on the case.”– Andrew Fuyarchuk, Yorkville University professor
After years of jotting down license plate numbers and logging countless calls to Ministry of Natural Resources and law enforcement officials to report suspected turtle poachers, Fuyarchuk decided last year to take a new approach to his turtle conservation efforts – to produce a documentary on the subject.
With the assistance of Yorkville University faculty development funding, Fuyarchuk was able to hire a talented crew of Film Production graduates from Yorkville affiliate, Toronto Film School, to bring his vision to the big screen in Turtles of Ontario: A Silent Cry for Help.
“Last summer I really realized the scale of the operation, and it was my frustration at not being able to derail the complete elimination of turtle populations in my area that was what got the doc rolling,” he explained.
Directed by TFS alumnus and Yorkville University student Egor Trushin, the 30-minute documentary will be screened for the Yorkville University community during a special event at La Liga Indoor Soccer, 1107 Finch Ave. W., on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. Invitations will be emailed out to staff and students in the coming weeks.
“We want people to watch this film and recognize this is a big issue in Toronto, because when Andrew explained to me what was happening, I, like many, was surprised to learn about it – turtle poaching is not a topic that you hear about too often,” Trushin, who’s currently enrolled in Yorkville’s Bachelor of Business Administration program, said of the film.
“My goal with this documentary is to showcase the issue, then show what’s being done now to solve this issue, then send a message of hope and a call to action to show regular people what they can do to help improve the situation.”
To those ends, Fuyarchuk said he and Trushin interviewed a broad spectrum of people involved in the fight against turtle poaching in Ontario, including both ministry officials and local grassroots conservationists.
On the law enforcement side of things, Fuyarchuk said they sat down with Julie Lawrence, a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry officer based out of Peterborough, and Andre Lupert, the Acting Regional Director for Wildlife Enforcement from Environment Canada.
On the conservation front, the pair also talked to Sue Carstairs, the medical director for the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, and Lori Leckie and Christina Cicconetti from the Heart Lake Turtle Troopers.
“So, on the one side you’ve got the perspective of law enforcement on poaching, and we really get to see the issue through the eyes of what (Lawrence and Lupert) do, which was really enlightening, and I’m so grateful for their time,” Fuyarchuk said.
“Then, on the other side, we’ve got the conservation efforts through the eyes of the NGO and citizens…You meet these people, and there’s no reason they do what they do but pure passion.”
While Fuyarchuk said Turtles of Ontario represents his first – and likely last – foray into filmmaking, he’s anxious to see what kind of the reception the film receives upon its release.
“For me, it’s about public awareness and education about the environment in general, and turtles in particular,” he said.
“What I hope people take away from watching this documentary is that it’s so easy to actively preserve and care for your natural environment, because it literally is in your backyard and in your public parks. The average citizen can do a lot.”