Team effort protects turtles

North Central Catchment Management Authority has praised the communities surrounding Gunbower Forest for their vigilance in protecting a threatened turtle species over the breeding season.

The forest is home to a significant population of broad-shelled turtles.

Each year, they move from the safety of their waterholes into the forest to build nests and lay eggs.

North Central CMA Gunbower Key Asset Protection Project manager Adrian Martins said turtle numbers across the northern part of the catchment had declined between 69 and 91 per cent in the past 40 years.

‘‘Recent research indicates 98 per cent of turtle eggs succumb to predation, and foxes account for 92 per cent of this,’’ he said.

‘‘We work closely with Turtles Australia and the local communities to help protect the nests during breeding season, to make it harder for foxes to access the nests.

‘‘Locals let us know if they have seen a turtle or a nest, and often protect it themselves.

If they can’t, we go out there with Turtles Australia to make it safe.’’

And the results from this year’s breeding season show the community is making a difference.

‘‘About 15 nests were either found or reported by the community and were subsequently protected by Turtles Australia,’’ Mr Martins said.

‘‘This is a great outcome and I would like to thank the community for their amazing help.

‘‘We had residents and landholders calling in and identifying female turtles laying, or attempting to lay eggs.

‘‘We also had volunteers from Bendigo TAFE, Templestowe College and Deakin University helping out. It was a great community effort and a lot more people are now aware of what needs to be done.

‘‘Unfortunately our volunteers recorded about 300 disturbed nests, which shows how big a threat foxes are to the turtle population.’’

Several new turtle kit distribution points were set up, including at the Gunbower Workshop Coffee Shop on Murray Valley Hwy.

Owner Sue McGillivray said she was happy to help after receiving phone calls asking for advice, and identifying a number of nesting sites herself.

‘‘The community is now more aware and are more concerned about the turtles,’’ she said.

‘‘Any little thing we can do can make a big difference. Protecting these turtles is a real team effort.’’

This project is supported by North Central CMA, through funding from the federal National Landcare Program.