Turtle team hailed for saving ‘doomed’ hatchlings

Issued: 23 Mar 2021

Image of Merlie the turtle heading out to sea.Open larger image
Merlie the turtle heads out to sea.

As the turtle breeding season draws to a close, the work of volunteers, QPWS rangers and research staff has been lauded, particularly for successes in saving doomed hatchlings.

Department of Environment and Science Chief Scientific Officer Dr Col Limpus said with turtle tours at Mon Repos finishing last night for another season, the hard work of everyone involved with the hatchlings was noteworthy.

“We have had only a negligible loss of clutches due to erosion or flooding this season for the entire Woongarra Coast,” Dr Limpus said.

“This good news is, in part, due to the success our volunteers had rescuing eggs that had been laid too low on the beach and were at risk of erosion or flooding, and relocating them to safe ground.

“In order to succeed, the relocation of eggs must be accomplished within two hours of the eggs being laid and with very minimal rotation.

“This has been a major ask for the staff and volunteers working on all the Woongarra Coast beaches this summer.

“Turtle hatchlings will continue to emerge for some months to come but we know that, so far, approximately 1200 clutches have been laid along the coast.”

Dr Limpus said weather conditions had also improved this season, leading to better hatchling success.

“We were fortunate this year that there were no major cyclones in the Coral Sea to create a storm surge on our coastline and, as a result, we have had some 70 per cent of clutches laid that have hatched,” Dr Limpus said.

“Heatwave conditions have prevailed over the past four years which has resulted in higher egg and hatchling mortality. But this summer we experienced more overcast days and the scattered rain through most of the season kept beach sand temperatures down.

“Therefore, we are expecting a higher incubation success and hatchling emergence success this year than in recent years.

“We’ll know better by June when this data is finalised.”

However, there was also some disappointing news with early numbers indicating a continued decline in nesting turtles.

“Approximately 365 loggerhead turtles were recorded nesting along the Woongarra Coast along with nine flatback turtles and one green turtle for the 2020-21 season,” Dr Limpus said.

“Preliminary data (which is subject to change as the tail end of the season continues) supports the continued decline of turtle nesting numbers.

“The reasons for the decline in the loggerhead nesting population are not clear at present.”

Mon Repo Ranger-in-Charge Cathy Gatley said: “A highlight of this season included one night where 14 clutches hatched while tour groups were present.”

Hatchlings were helped by those living near to ocean frontage turning out their lights or drawing curtains to block light shining towards the beach.

“We have been encouraged to see some residents helping hatchlings by turning out lights that shine towards the beach, however there is much more work to be done,” Dr Limpus said.

“We would like to see local councils leading in this area, turning all streetlights off during those turtle nesting months, in areas where hatchlings can become disoriented by artificial lights, mistaking them for light shining on the water.”

Local residents and visitors to the area should be advised that Mon Repos beach is closed to the public from 6pm to 6am during the remaining hatchling season to protect the baby turtles as they make their first perilous journey to the water.