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Capricorn Coast turtles at higher risk says expert

Capricorn Coast turtles at higher risk says expert

AT LEAST some of the money and effort being put into water quality research and monitoring in Gladstone should be transferred north to the Capricorn Coast, according to one of central Queensland’s leading sea turtle experts.

Bob McCosker spoke at Emu Park and Yeppoon last week, saying he believed politicians – following media pressure – had focused too much of their attention on Gladstone Harbour rather than on the Capricorn Coast, especially Emu Park and Rosslyn Bay.

Mr McCosker, who operates the purpose-built Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre off Gladstone, was in Emu Park for a turtle release and later spoke at a turtle and wildlife rescue information session in Yeppoon.

« There’s been a huge amount of publicity about how horrific Gladstone Harbour is, but for three years now, the sickest animals have always come from right here, » he told the crowd, who had gathered at Fisherman’s Beach for the release of a green turtle called Tula, which had been nursed back to health at Quoin Island.

« This year, 50% of the turtles brought to us have come from where we’re standing, » he said.

Mr McCosker justified his call for politicians and bureaucrats to rethink their priorities by pointing to figures showing one-third of all turtles cared for at the rehabilitation centre were rescued from the Cap Coast – the largest single group – and those from this area had the poorest survival rate while in care, with less than half recovering.

It is not the first time Mr McCosker has urged authorities to reallocate funds and research efforts.

In October, The Gladstone Observer reported (« Turtles sicker in Yeppoon than in Gladstone ») Mr McCosker telling a meeting in that city that, despite appearances, he believed the waters around Rosslyn Bay were in worse condition than Gladstone Harbour.

Gladstone Harbour looked dirty because of the mud, « hence people assume it’s unhealthy, which is not the case », he said.

« (In) Rosslyn Bay, you’ve got this beautiful pristine water that you can see the bottom in 40ft of water and yet half of the animals from up there don’t survive.

« At Gladstone Harbour we’re saving 60-70%, which to me implies the waters around Rosslyn Bay are in worse condition than the ones they say we’re dealing with (in Gladstone), » he said.

« There’s tens of millions of dollars being spent on research on Gladstone Harbour and on turtles and marine life, whereas I’d prefer these guys to be looking further up the coast. »

Mr McCosker said the rehabilitation centre had cared for about 160 turtles since it opened in March 2012, releasing almost 90 back into the ocean.

Their average time in care was about three months.

About 90% were green turtles, such as Tula, while the remainder were mainly loggerhead or hawksbill turtles.

Mr McCosker conceded his figures may be distorted by the fact Capricorn Coast beaches had more people on them to notice sick turtles.

He said winter was also a difficult time for turtles and the reptiles sometimes floated on water or basked on beaches simply to gain warmth.

Numbers had also been temporarily affected by the 2011 floods that saw massive run-off from the land reduce food supplies for the herbivorous green turtles.

But he pointed out that while turtle populations had been « decimated » around the world, it appeared that, just as Gladstone Harbour was healthier than most people believed, there were « strong volumes of green turtles in Queensland ».

However, he sounded a note of warning if the seas did continue to rise in temperature, as predicted would happen in the future as a result of global warming.

Mr McCosker said temperature was a determining factor in the sex of turtles, so an increase could cause a huge imbalance in males and females, with a consequent large-scale and rapid loss of population.

In this situation, a massive decline in their numbers would occur almost overnight.

« In just 10 years, we could go from thousands of animals to just a handful, » Mr McCosker said.