Protecting Our Endangered Turtles
The Sunshine Coast is a renowned nesting ground for Loggerhead and Green turtles across it’s many beaches. The Queensland coastline is a gateway to The Great Barrier Reef – home to a total of six species of the world’s marine-dwelling turtle population.
It is a popular attraction for locals and tourists to watch the laying and hatching of baby turtles as they begin their commute to the sea.
However, turtle life is fragile. Turtles and their rituals are very easily disturbed by human interaction and development getting in the way of what has been done on our shores for thousands of years.
Turtles are highly endangered creatures to the point where roughly 1 in 1000 turtles that hatch survive to full maturity. This is because their life is constantly in danger.
Human intervention can have disastrous effects on a turtle’s survival. In terms of coastal development, construction of sea walls causes changes in tides and movement of sand. The inevitable erosion can be a killer for nesting turtle mothers. As well as land construction changing the turtles’ accessibility to beaches and an increased chance of debris ending up on the shores. The turtles are very often forced to either relocate or not lay at all.
All this is contributing also to pollution and debris contaminating the ocean and beaches, becoming obstacles and poison to turtles despite their usually long-life span of 80+ years.
Often, turtles will get fishing lines and ropes caught around their necks choking them. They also mistake plastic bags for jellyfish (their primary food) causing an infection called Floating Syndrome – obstructing their lungs from working properly and making them unable to dive underwater.
If it’s not human causes, carnivores also pose a large threat during all stages of a turtle’s life. A turtle has no defence mechanism other then it’s hard shell (or carapace), so it is an easy prey for many creatures.
As an example, did you ever wonder why Sunshine Coast beaches have shark nets? Well, simply put – sharks are drawn to our shores by food.
Mudjimba surfer, Phil Burke, reiterates this point after an encounter he had witnessing a turtle being eaten by a tiger shark while he was surfing.
It’s clear there are obvious threats in the sea for the docile creatures, but although our local turtles spend majority of their life migrating through many different currents and reefs, the few surviving adult turtles must return to the shores to lay eggs in the exact same place their life began 20-30 years’ prior.
This poses a whole new danger in itself – not only for the turtle, but for her hatchlings also.
Turtle nests on Sunshine Coast beaches are very rarely safe without human protection, so animals like foxes and goannas often targeting these nests to feed upon the eggs. As well as seagulls attacking the hatchlings while they attempt to reach the ocean.
When it comes to human interference, the outcome is normally incredibly negative. However, the Sunshine Coast is becoming more and more aware there are serious dangers posed to turtles in the area, and positive action is starting to occur. SEALIFE is an aquarium in Mooloolaba, and they have a dedicated volunteer program to aid injured and laying sea turtles on the Sunshine Coast. On their website, they stated:
« SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast has taken a proactive role in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine turtles to ensure that they are conserved and sustained for future generations. »
As well as rehabilitating injured and sick turtles. SEALIFE also coordinates a volunteer-based program to monitor the laying, incubation, and hatching of turtle nests between North Bribie Island to Buddina. To which they attended 32 nests during the breeding season early this year.
Although there is a clear downfall in turtle population on the Sunshine Coast over the course of the many years they laid on our shores, not all hope is lost to rehabilitate this species and save it from extinction.
Phoebe Broad // May 2017
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