Support the North Coast’s Unique Species on World Turtle Day
Have you come across a turtle trying to get from one side of a road to the other lately? Perhaps you’ve seen one in the surf between sets. Chances are, you let out a little squeal of delight or rushed to confirm the sighting with anyone in a 100-metre radius. “Ohmygosh, did you see that?!” These fascinating reptiles are rare so witnessing one in its natural habitat is memorable, but if you haven’t considered the plight of both freshwater and marine turtle species for a while, May 23 is a good day to get educated. World Turtle Day provides an opportunity for us to celebrate these unique creatures while learning about the ways we can protect them and their disappearing habitats. On May 23, conservation groups around the world will raise awareness about the issues turtles face and what can be done to support them.
Turtles in Australia
About 23 species of freshwater turtle call Australia home. In New South Wales, we’re lucky enough to claim seven of the freshwater turtle species, two of which are found nowhere else. Eastern Saw-Shelled turtles favour the rivers of the New South Wales north coast and hinterland as far south as the Richmond River system, the Manning River turtle is confined to the Manning River and its tributaries on the mid-north coast, while the Bellinger River turtle is found in just one catchment on the planet: the Bellinger River system. Last year, Coastbeat brought you the incredible story of efforts to pull this extremely rare species back from the brink of extinction.
Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle can be found in our waters: Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley. Australia has some of the largest marine turtle nesting areas in the Indo-Pacific region and has the only nesting populations of the Flatback turtle. Sadly, there are only a few large nesting populations of the Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles left in the world.
Threats to their survival
Marine turtles have lived in the oceans for over 100 million years, but they are now up against some major obstacles. On land they are targeted by dogs, foxes and pigs. It’s common for their nests to be robbed and the majority of their eggs destroyed. Once in the water, adult turtles are largely protected by their shells but still have to contend with plastic bags (which they mistake for jellyfish), cigarette butts, fishing lines, hooks and nets as well as boat propellers. Everyday their survival is threatened by pollution, seagrass depletion and changes to their important habitats. In late 2018, a concentrated rescue effort at Boambee Beach (south of Coffs Harbour) ensured the survival of more than 70 vulnerable green turtle hatchlings.
What’s being done?
Three years ago, the New South Wales and Queensland governments jointly released the national Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia. The plan focuses on six species and considers what’s required to guarantee their long-term survival. The plan sets out the research and management actions needed to stop their decline and support their recovery in nature.
On a positive note, design engineer Nick van der Geest is working at the Auckland University of Technology on an innovative project aimed at assisting turtles who have lost flippers in fishing nets or in collisions with boats. Nick is developing, testing and manufacturing a flipper prosthetic to help turtles swim on their own again. We’ll be sure to bring you the full story once Nick’s research findings are released.
How to help
- Never remove a turtle from the beach or bush – it’s illegal in most states.
- If you find a sick or injured turtle, call WIRES or your local National Parks and Wildlife office.
- If a turtle is crossing a busy road, pick it up carefully and take it to the other side of the road. If you try to make it go back, it will only turn around again.
- Reduce your plastic use so less waste ends up in our oceans and waterways.
- Donate money to a charity working to protect these wonderful creatures. WWF Australia offers turtle “adoption” while the Sea Turtle Foundations suggests ways to fundraise and has opportunities for volunteers.
Our coastline is home to some amazing marine creatures. Check out our photo gallery here.