Marine turtles under threat

Great Keppel Island tourism operator Lyndie Malan says the area’s marine turtles are under threat, especially the hatchlings.

Lyndie says that usually they would only see one dead turtle every two years, but this year have seen nine carcasses on Keppel.

Ms Malan is wondering whether the higher turtle mortality has anything to do with the warming of the sea waters which has also led to widespread coral bleaching. The changes to human use of the island is also worrying Lyndie.

“In the last 15 years, a lot more boats and a lot more motor boats and jetskis are being used around the island.

“Now [boats and jetskis] go all around the island, when a few years ago they were confined to one bay, so any turtles that were away from Putney Bay were safe.

“About four or five years ago the authorities gave permission to go around the entire island and so now there is nowhere that turtles can just forage and live and breathe.”

“Turtles need quiet beaches, they need beaches with no lights shining down on them – and one thing resorts like to have is people sitting at sunset, with whole strings of lights along the beach.

“This is a real problem because when turtle hatchlings hatch, they orient themselves. They look out over the sea and even on the darkest of nights, there is a slight light horizon over the ocean. That’s how they find their way out to sea and to safety. If there’s even one street light behind little hatchlings they get confused and they turn around and they head towards that. Then they get entangled in shrubbery, eaten by dogs, they get stepped on or driven over.”

It’s estimated that only one in 1000 turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood, and Lyndie says they don’t need any added human pressure.

“We’re very lucky on Great Keppel that we don’t have any feral pigs or foxes, but dogs, wild dogs, dogs that are not kept under control at night can also be a problem. They can dig up the nests and eat the eggs and the hatchlings.

“If people like to walk their dogs on the beach, it’s very important that your dog is walking near you, and definitely not at night. People who live near the beach should keep their dogs locked up at night.”

Lyndie says off-road driving can also damage turtles’ nests.

“You don’t want heavy 4WDs driving up through the sand dunes at the top of the beach, because that would crush the nests. People walking over them is not really such a problem, but lights and heavy vehicles should really be off the beaches.”

Lyndie is passionate about the island’s marine life and says we all need to be more aware of their breeding so that we can still continue to see these majestic sea creatures in the future.