Marine Turtles on the Sunshine Coast
Did you know that we have a resident population of marine turtles here on the Sunshine Coast? If you have walked around any of our rocky headlands, such as Pt Cartwright, Pt Arkwright, Pt Perry, Double Island Point - and looked down into the water below, you may have seen them swimming around, occasionally popping their heads up to breathe. The most commonly seen species in these areas is the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta).
During the summer months, a different group of marine turtles visit our waters to mate, and then the females come up onto our beaches to lay their eggs. These are either Loggerheads or Greens (Chelonia mydas).
A small and dedicated group of Coolum and North Shore Coast Care volunteers has been trained to record data on stranded turtles (both dead and alive) that wash up from Sunshine Beach to Mooloolaba.
During the turtle nesting season, November to March, these members are also involved in locating and protecting nests with mesh, to prevent predation and damage, and monitoring nest safety and progress. See where we have recorded turtles nesting over the last few years.
In extreme cases our trained volunteers, accredited under the Queensland Government's turtle research program, are able to relocate nests if their safety is threatened by extreme weather, erosion or lighting issues.
We are heavily dependent on regular beach walkers to help us locate and monitor turtle nesting activity, and report strandings. Read on to see how you can help.
Unfortunately, a number of sick, injured, or dead marine turtles wash up on our beaches. Injuries to marine turtles can be the result of natural predation, or they can be inflicted by unnatural causes such as being hit by boats or propellors. Illness can also be from naturally occurring conditions such as starvation or diseases. But man-made pollution is also playing an increasing role in marine animal sickness and disease. Debris and dissolved chemicals carried in storm-water runoff, and rubbish thrown directly into our seas is being eaten by marine animals such as turtles, and causing illness and deaths. Plastic items such as bags, fishing line, string and rope can be mistaken for food items such as jellyfish and sea grass. Necropsies on dead marine turtles are increasingly finding ingested plastic to be the cause of death, because of intestinal blockages leading to internal bleeding, 'floating disease', and starvation.
How you can help ...
If you find a turtle washed up on the beach - either dead or alive - please don't put it back into the water. Even a live turtle will only wash up if they are already ill. Please contact either the Marine Animal Stranding Hotline - 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) or our turtle monitoring team as soon as possible on 0478 435 377 - their phone numbers can also be found here.
Please dispose of you rubbish thoughtfully. Place all rubbish in a suitable bin - recycle what you can. Don't throw rubbish directly into the sea, or onto the street where it will be washed into the storm-water system and potentially into rivers and the ocean.
Choose to purchase products with either minimal packaging or recyclable packaging.
Use re-usable bags to hold your shopping - don't continue to contribute to the huge problem of waste plastic bags in our environment.
If you are a boaty, keep an eye out for marine animals that may be near the surface, such as marine turtles that have to come up to breathe. Slow down in areas where you know there are marine turtles living and feeding.
If you are a fisherman, use biodegradable fishing line. Don't throw pieces of fishing line, hooks, damaged netting, or plastic bait bags into the sea - take them home and dispose of them in the bin.
From November to March every year, female Loggerhead and Green turtles will make their way up onto the beaches along the Sunshine Coast to lay their eggs, usually during the night and very early morning. Marine turtles lay multiple clutches of 90-180 eggs, in the sand of the fore-dune area. These eggs take from 6-12 weeks to develop into little hatchlings. Once the hatchlings emerge from their nest under the sand, they run down the beach towards the white line of surf in the sea, then swim out to begin their long journey to adulthood - only 1 in 1000 will survive to breeding age.
How you can help ...
If you are an early morning beach walker, keep an eye out for turtle tracks over the nesting season. For more information about what to look for, look here. If you see tracks, report them to our turtle monitoring team - their phone numbers can be found here.
If you see a nesting turtle, turn off any torches, stay still and keep your distance. Nesting turtles are very easily spooked - if they get scared they will turn around and go back to the sea, then they may dump the whole clutch of eggs at sea. Contact us immediately - we may be able to tag the turtle, or record any existing tags, and we will help you to watch the turtle safely and without disturbing her, so you can get the most out of a unique and amazing experience.
Keep pets and children off the dunes, especially during nesting season. Turtle nests can be uncovered and destroyed if the dune is damaged. Children or dogs might accidentally dig up a nest. If the dunes and their stabilising vegetation are destroyed, there will be nowhere for the turtles to nest in the future.
If you see feral animals such as foxes and wild dogs on the beach or in the dunes, dob them in to Sunshine Coast Council, telephone 1300 007 272. Feral animals will dig up a turtle nest for food if they can find one. Council has control programs in place for feral animals. If you would like to be part of the current fox monitoring program, details can be found under local information.
Help to minimise the amount of artificial light that is visible from the beach - from street lighting, sports fields, and buildings and homes along the coast. Too much artificial light will scare off nesting adult turtles. Hatchling turtles will walk towards the brightest light - if this is artificial light rather than the white of the surf, hatchlings will waste precious energy walking in the wrong direction. If they are not found in time, hatchlings can die of exhaustion and heat. Read a summary of recent research on this issue, prepared in April 2015, under issues and threats.
Lobby local, state, and federal governments to put measures in place to protect turtle nesting habitat - by minimising coastal development and lighting, enforcing the use 'turtle friendly' lighting systems, educating the public about the importance of our dunes as habitat for endangered animals and plants.
Join your local Coast Care group. Weeding and revegetating the dunes will help to ensure that they are stable and protected for the future. This will provide a home for the unique flora and fauna that rely on the dunes year-round. A stable dune system will also help to protect our coastal communities from damaging coastal weather events such as storms and cyclones.