Extent of turtle season devastation becomes clearer in cyclone’s wake


The extent of the devastation of Queensland’s turtle season by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seth is becoming clearer, weeks after dangerous swells and high tides washed away hundreds of nests just before they hatched.

Colonel Limpus, chief scientist of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, said there had been significant dune erosion and loss of turtle nests between Bundaberg and Gladstone.

“We don’t know exactly how many we’ve lost. We’re slowly trying to get them back,” Dr Limpus said.

“We probably lost over 150 broods for the Woongarra coast, which includes [nesting hotspot] My rest.”

Loggerhead turtle nests destroyed

Nev and Bev McLachlan of Turtle Care Volunteers Queensland said they were assessing the number of loggerhead nests destroyed by high tides at Wreck Rock, near Agnes Water.

“The banks where a lot of loggerheads lay have just been swept away,” Mr McLachlan said.

He said they expected some of the green sea turtle nests to have survived because the mothers were laying eggs higher up the dune.

Turtle Care Volunteers Nev and Bev McLachlan at Wreck Rock near Agnes Water.(ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

Dr Limpus said the volunteers had saved as many eggs as they could by moving them higher into the dunes and stressed that the nesting season was not over yet.

“We still have turtles nesting at the moment,” he said.

But the odds are stacked against them with an average of only one in 1,000 reaching adulthood.

They then need 30 years to reach sexual maturity.

seven turtle hatchlings on the sand
Hatchling turtles rush to the ocean on Mon Repos beach.(Provided: Meg Forbes)

Decline of new breeding mothers

The number of new nesting turtles has declined this season, which McLachlan says could be the result of significant nest losses in recent decades due to predators and weather events.

“There is general concern across the turtle program in Queensland,” he said.

“There is a reduction in the number of newborns coming out in the water over the last 50 years.

“We are now seeing the results of that in the number of first-year breeders.

A turtle photographed at the water's edge under the moonlight
A loggerhead sea turtle returns to the water after laying eggs on Wreck Rock beach over the weekend.( ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

Dr Limpus said the gradual decline in new nesting turtles could also be attributed to the escalation of longline fishing in the eastern Pacific in the mid-1990s.

“A very large number of our young turtles were killed in the longline fishery off Peru and Chile…and we believe this is one of the factors affecting our turtle population today” , did he declare.

“We’re doing our part here to increase the production of hatchlings and that’s why we move the eggs that are laid low on the beach, so we don’t lose them.”


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