Loggerhead turtle hatchlings scramble their way to the water.
Loggerhead turtle hatchlings scramble their way to the water. Lesley Bradley

Tiny turtles start their journey

TURTLE hatchlings have been fighting their way to the top of their nests and scrambling to the sea at the tip of Fraser Island.

The tiny loggerhead and green turtles started hatching around mid-January, with the nesting season starting in November.

So far this season, 11,500 eggs have been relocated by volunteers working with the Department of Environment and Resource Management.

The selective group of volunteers are members of the Lower Mary River Land and Catchment Care Group and have been trained by island rangers in the handling of turtles and their eggs.

The volunteers spend weeks in isolation at Sandy Cape and at about 3.30am every day of their two, three or four-week stays they go in search of nests.

When they find some they carefully pick up the eggs (there are about 80 to 100 in every clutch) and take them to a small rookery behind the sand dunes.

Each nest is marked by a white stake which in turn is marked with the date of the relocation and the number of eggs.

Once the eggs start hatching the turtles push their way to the surface and instinctively make their way to the sea.

Volunteers spend weeks helping turtles.The volunteers release them from the rookery and make sure they are not distracted by bright lights or eaten by predators such as dingoes.

“The little turtles just boil up over the sand and knock the peg over,” explained volunteer Dave Dean, who is currently at Sandy Cape with his wife, Ellen.

The couple arrived at Sandy Cape by QPWS vessel CH Thompson on January 20 as part of the State Government’s Sandy Cape Lighthouse Volunteer Program.

So far they have relocated 1500 loggerhead turtle eggs.

The relocation program does not involve green turtles because they are not considered endangered. The reasons for relocation are to protect the eggs from waves and swell, get them away from vehicles on the beaches and protect them from predators.

How long it takes for eggs to hatch varies from clutch to clutch and season to season, depending on whether the mother turtle has already laid that year and whether the clutch is in the shade or sun.

Nests in the sun will create a majority of female turtles and eggs will hatch more quickly compared to those in the shade, producing more males.

Mr Dean said on average eggs take about 62 days to hatch however there is currently a clutch in the shade at Sandy Cape that has not had a murmur for 72 days.

DERM Ranger Aub Strydom explained it was currently a marginal time for loggerhead nesting.

“We may get another eight or 10 nests to be moved. Green turtles may still come in to nest until late March-early April.

“Sandy Cape represents a small number of the total nesting in Queensland for green and loggerhead nesting. It’s a minor rookery but still important for these threatened species.

“The Sandy Cape volunteers play a key role in the turtle program and we’re grateful for their continuing support, efforts and enthusiasm.”

DERM chief scientist Col Limpus said Sandy Cape was also an important area for studying green turtle courtship and mating.

“It’s one of the few accessible courtship aggregations in eastern Australia. Our volunteers tag many of these turtles on their flippers.

“We find those tagged turtles nesting on nearby islands of the southern Great Barrier Reef such as Lady Elliott, Lady Musgrave and Heron Island.”

TURTLE TRIVIA

  • QPWS carries out an annual two-week turtle census at Sandy Cape on Fraser Island, covering 44km of beach from Ngkala Rocks to Rooney Point
  • The 2009-2010 turtle season is the 17th annual census with so far about 53 loggerhead turtles and about 18 green turtles nesting
  • Loggerheads are listed as endangered while green turtles are vulnerable
  • The loggerhead has continued a steady trend of increasing annual nesting numbers from three to four in the early 1990s to 53 this season
  • The program of shifting loggerhead nests started on November 20 and will finish on February 20

Source: DERM and QPWS



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