CHS Blog

Biologists make us all richer

February 01, 2022
Interview with Guillaume DeBlois who co-wrote a book on Canadian freshwater turtles

Professionals who take care of biodiversity leave a priceless legacy for future generations. A young Canadian, Guillaume DeBlois, understood this and wanted to support them in their work by making it his mission to help save freshwater turtles. A member of the Canadian Herpetological Society's Board of Directors invited his mother to ask him a few questions to find out the story behind his journey. Here is the result of that exchange.

His mother: “Guillaume, can you explain why you wanted to work with biologists to protect turtles?”

Guillaume: “Several years ago, a person came to my school to talk about freshwater turtles in Quebec. She said that they were in danger. I used to see them sometimes when I went on nature trips. However, the other kids in my class didn't even know there were any in our province because they are very rare. They thought there were only tropical sea turtles and only talked about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Benjamin the turtle or Bowser. It was weird for me. I thought maybe the biologists needed a boost in their work. People couldn't understand the need to protect freshwater turtles because they didn't know they were there. I looked for books on Quebec turtles. I couldn't find any. That's when I had the idea to make one myself. Because I was very young, I asked my mother to help me and she accepted. The book Les tortues du Québec was published in 2014. I was eight years old. It wasn't easy, but I got there thanks to many people who believed in my project.”

His mother: “After your publication, you were a finalist for the Inspiration Nature Award given by the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. You were also named a Wetland Hero by Ducks Unlimited Canada. You deserve these honours because you wanted to raise awareness about freshwater turtles in Quebec so that everyone could participate in saving them. You should be proud of yourself. How did you live this experience and why did you continue after all the work you had done?”

Guillaume: “Thank you mom. I often wanted to stop because I found it complicated and difficult, but there was always someone who encouraged me to continue. For example, I had the chance to meet David Suzuki who invited me to speak in front of 1200 young people to encourage them to do their part for the environment. He suggested I do another book on freshwater turtles across the country. I just finished the English version of this second book and decided to distribute it for free to everyone. People can just download the file from the Canadian Herpetological Society website. It took me a little over six years to complete it. I can't believe I got this far. I'm surprised. There are so many experts who have been with me on my journey.”

His mother: “How exactly did it go with the specialists you're talking about?”

Guillaume: “Very well. They all welcomed me as if I were a professional. I had prepared questions that I asked them. You wrote down their answers to go faster while dad and Gregoire, my older brother, took pictures. I went to many amazing places where I met some great people. I weighed turtles with Denis Masse from La Mauricie National Park in Quebec. I released baby spiny softshell turtles with Scott Gillingwater of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in Ontario. I canoed with Constance Browne in New Brunswick. Thanks to Jeffie McNeil in Nova Scotia, I have a Blanding's turtle named after me. I also loved looking for stinkpot turtles under the lily pads in Thousand Islands National Park. I will never forget these moments which mean a lot to me. I would like to talk about all the people I have met who have given me so much. All I can say is that these people were all really cool. I can't thank them enough for believing in me and helping me reach my goal.”

His mother: “Can you explain better what everybody did?”

Guillaume : “I spent long hours, days, months, years with you mom writing the book on the computer from the notes we had collected from the specialists. It was probably the most boring part of the work, even though I love you mom and even though it was my choice. Then, many specialists read it again and sent us comments to improve our text. We had to make a lot of corrections. My friend Scott Gillingwater did the scientific revision twice to get it right. We looked for a publisher because I wanted the book to be in every elementary and high school library in Canada. I got a lot of rejections and became very discouraged. Some people from CHS suggested that we make it available on the internet. I just hope now that the document will be shared a lot and that people will find it useful. Me, I'm pretty proud of the result. "

His mother : “I congratulate you on this great achievement. Your willingness to raise awareness is remarkable. What do you want to do in the future? Do you have any other plans?”

Guillaume: “I still have to translate the book on the turtles of Canada into French. Dad will help me. As for my professional future, I don't know yet. I am only 15 years old you know. At school, I am registered in the soccer program. I like sports, but also video games. Sometimes I have big dreams and I imagine myself going around the world. The Woodland Park Zoo in Washington invited me to go see the Pacific pond turtles in the United States. They are extirpated from Canada, but they are still present in the United States. I have so many places to go. Thanks to the biologists and all those who take care of the planet, I expect to have a rich life of discovery.”

Congratulations to Guillaume who invites people to get more involved in protecting the environment. Feel free to share his latest book Freshwater Turtles of Canada. It is for everyone and will be available soon in French.

If you want to know more about him, here are some links :

Guillaume DeBlois with Denis Masse at La Mauricie National Park, in 2015
With David Suzuki, during his visit to Quebec City as part of the Blue Dot Tour, in 2014
Scott Gillingwatter and Guillaume, in 2018. At the time of this meeting, which took place in Ontario, the teenager was preparing an article on turtles for the magazine Nature sauvage
Mary Beth Lynch, Guillaume, his mother and Noah Johnson in Thousand Islands National Park
Jeffie McNeil and Guillaume at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, in 2016
Guillaume at Zoo Ecomuseum, working on his first book entitled Les tortues du Québec
Grégoire, Guillaume's older brother, is never far away. That day, as a volunteer, he was in charge of releasing newborns
Guillaume with his father, Marc DeBlois, who drove him thousands of kilometers, took many pictures and translated the book