A cautious smile as native turtles given a helping hand

A cautious smile as native turtles given a helping hand

Young eastern long-necked turtles may be allowed the odd cautious smile after a « head start » from scientists in Sydney’s north west.

With a rapidly ageing population and minute chances of surviving beyond the nest, the native fresh water turtle is the focus of a Western Sydney University team that is setting out to protect the species from foxes, cars and pollution.

Dr Ricky Spencer, zoology lecturer and head of WildLabs, led a group of scientists in releasing 14 one- to two-year-old turtles into Hawkesbury wetlands on Friday. With transmitters mounted on their backs, the creatures, which act as « vacuum cleaners » of fresh water systems, will be monitored for six months.

Eastern long-necked Turtles

Baby Eastern long-necked turtles released at a site near Richmond. Photo: Peter Rae

Foxes destroy 95 per cent of turtle nests, while others fall prey to busy roads and polluted waterways. Dr Spencer regularly comes across turtles between 30 and 50 years of age – and some live for as long as 100 years – but said that few babies survive long enough to go on to produce young of their own.

« They’ve had several hundred years of very little recruitment. We talk about ageing humans, this is really extreme ageing, because of predation by foxes, all you’ve got is old turtles, » he said.

The team will analyse the animals’ range of travel and survival rates, with the hope that by « head starting », or bypassing the dangerous hatching phase of the wild, population numbers will be boosted for good.

From here on in, the Hawkesbury’s newest recruits are expected to eat, feed and swim – and, if all goes well, potentially mate and then nest. The transmitters will naturally slough from the turtles’ backs as their shells mature.

And because the species lives across Sydney – « wherever there’s a creek, a pond or any fresh water, in Centennial Park, the inner west, anywhere, really » – the university is asking Sydneysiders to help with the research by logging on to TurtleSAT to document any sightings.