Unusual post-hatchling turtle stranding event

Issued: 17 Feb 2021

The Department of Environment and Science is asking residents and visitors to the Capricorn Coast region to turn out their lights at night if they are residing near the shoreline after a large number of post-hatchling flatback turtles have stranded.

Many hatchlings had been found dead or stranded on the Capricorn Coast beaches since the end of January 2021.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, along with Team Turtle CQ Volunteers are closely monitoring the situation.

Two of the stranded turtles were recaptures from a monitoring program at Peak Island, indicating that the hatchlings are not all dispersing from the local area as expected.

Monitoring of newly emerged hatchlings at Peak Island has shown that instead of heading directly seaward across the beach, the hatchlings were heading diagonally across the beach towards the Yeppoon Coast.

There is a distinct possibility that the post-hatchling turtles leaving Peak Island are being attracted to the inshore coastal waters of Keppel Bay by the sky glow of the Yeppoon coast.

People residing close to the coastline on the Capricorn Coast should be encouraged to turn off all unnecessary lights after 7:30pm during the hatchling season from February to March.

At night, hatchlings move from their nest to the ocean by following the lightest horizon they see.

On nesting beaches with nearby artificial lights, hatchlings can become disoriented, heading toward the artificial light instead of the ocean.

Those that make it to the ocean can be lured back to the shore by strong, coastal lights, and the hatchlings can become exhausted, strand and die or become prey for birds.

Many of the stranded hatchlings have been seen to already ingest plastic debris, which was another major concern for sustainable populations of turtles.

Unfortunately, careless littering and artificial lights at night are impacting on our turtle populations.

If people find live turtle hatchlings on Capricorn Coast beaches please call the DES Wildlife hotline on 1300 130 372.

Dr Ian Bell discussing flatback turtle hatchlings.