Turtles by the light of the moon

Monday 11 April, 2016

Turtles at Reedy Creek

At Reedy Creek Reserve in Queensland, volunteer Gary Simpson is helping monitor and protect one of the world’s most beloved, and vulnerable species – the Loggerhead Turtle.

A baby Loggerhead Turtle makes its way through the dunes, destined for the ocean. Photo Annette Ruzicka.A baby Loggerhead Turtle makes its way through the dunes, destined for the ocean. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

Up above, against a jet-black sky, a minefield of stars sparkle brightly. A group of people – adults and children alike – walk along the beach. They rarely use torches, instead allowing their eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Behind them the soft sand is potted with the deep imprint of their footsteps, and the only sound is the sigh of the ocean as it laps at their ankles.

The anticipation of seeing endangered Loggerhead Turtles is palpable. “People are so thankful to see turtles in their natural environment,” says Queensland Parks and Wildlife volunteer Gary Simpson. “Often we might take the opportunity to educate holiday goers and local residents about threats to these turtles, and how to reduce hazards.”

Gary and Matt monitor and record the nesting mother for future rehabilitation work. Photo by Annette RuzickaGary and Matt monitor and record the nesting mother for future rehabilitation work. Photo by Annette Ruzicka

The nesting season

From November to February, when the tides are high, Loggerhead, Green and Flatback turtles come from the Coral Sea to nest on nearby beaches. These beaches, including Springs, Sunrise, Rocky Point and Red Rock, back onto an intact patch of coastal forest called Reedy Creek Reserve, which is under Bush Heritage’s management.

With turtle numbers steadily declining over the past 20 years due to fishing nets, boat strikes, plastic and predation, Gary and his partner Kelly wanted to do something about it. Since early 2000, they’ve been monitoring turtle activity and recording valuable information – a job that takes up to five hours each night. Findings will help inform future conservation efforts.

In the early days, we had around 40 mothers nesting on these beaches. Now we’re up to around 90.
A Loggerhead hatchmling struggles toward the ocean. Photo by Annette RuzickaA Loggerhead hatchmling struggles toward the ocean. Photo by Annette Ruzicka

Bush Heritage Reserve Manager Matt McLean supports Gary and Kelly with equipment and resources.

“Their efforts are critical,” Matt says. “If they weren’t doing it, there is no way we could put that amount of time into it, and this project would fall into a heap. Gary and Kelly have the best interests of the turtles well and truly at heart, and they’ve done a mammoth amount of work.”

The protection measures are working

With Gary and Kelly’s help, extensive rehabilitation work has also been carried out along the foreshore to stop erosion, and measures have been adopted by residents to reduce artificial light sources from coastal properties that could otherwise interfere with successful nesting.

A nesting turtle. Photo by Annette RuzickaA Loggerhead Turtle lays her eggs. Photo by Annette Ruzicka

And it seems these efforts are paying off. “Turtle numbers are no longer declining,” Gary says. “In fact, since we started, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in the population. In the early days, we had around 40 mothers nesting on these beaches. Now we’re up to around 90 at times.”

“Turtles are just so vulnerable. They’ve been nesting on this coastline for centuries, which is why we need to educate people about their habitat. If we want to have an environmental asset like this, we can’t keep forcing nature away.”

Thank you to Michael Myer and Dellarose Rubi-Baevski for generously donating this property. Our thanks also to the residents of Sunrise @1770 for supporting the management of Reedy Creek Reserve.

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