MAIDEN VOYAGE: A hatchling making its way to sea.
MAIDEN VOYAGE: A hatchling making its way to sea.

Coast group warns 'beware of the turtles'

EARLY in 2002 Rhondda Alexander moved from Western Queensland to Currumundi. A long-time leading land care environmentalist, she knew little about the coastline and even less about turtles.

Today, Rhondda, 70, is one of the leaders of the Sunshine Coast Turtle Care Group now gearing up for the nesting season which starts this month and continues to late April.

Altogether, there are 120 volunteers on the Sunshine Coast giving their time to saving these critically endangered majestic sea creatures who will nest this year across beaches from Caloundra to Teewah with greatest concentrations at Shelly Beach and the Kawana stretch.

Rhondda's beaches are Currumundi and Bilinga and there are eight people in her group. "For the next six months or so one of us will go on patrol daily, starting at 5am. We will walk the beaches looking for turtle tracks and nests.

"When we find the nests, we cover them with mesh to protect the eggs from predators like goannas and other wildlife.

"When it comes time for the hatchlings to emerge, we start monitoring the nests each night from 5pm until 10 or 11pm. Sometimes we might stay later if a fox has been seen in that area."

She says watching the baby turtles crawl out of the sand is a wonderful sight. "A female can lay up to 150 eggs and it is very special to see the hatchlings emerge from the sand.

"The dreadful fact is only about one in 1000 will survive to adulthood because of predators and people polluting the sea with plastic bags and balloons or being struck by boat propellers."

Rhondda is a dedicated pioneer of turtle conservation. "Before I came here in 2002 there wasn't much happening. People knew there were turtles there but no one ever gave a thought about predators.

"A friend asked me to come down to the beach with her at night time and sit by a turtle stretch. I didn't know what a turtle looked like but when I saw the wee green turtles, I just became hooked.

"I went to Mon Repos Turtle Centre for training in turtle management with Professor Col Limpus and then set about trying to recruit volunteers.

"I'm very happy I have the time to be able to do this work and I'm very proud of my team. There is this feeling that we are part of something wonderful and we are making a difference."

 

PRECIOUS CARGO: Volunteers monitor nests until 10 or 11pm, even later if a fox has been seen in that area.
PRECIOUS CARGO: Volunteers monitor nests until 10 or 11pm, even later if a fox has been seen in that area.

WHAT TO DO WHEN TURTLE WATCHING

Sunshine Coast Council wildlife conservation officer, Lisa Kath, has this advice for turtle watchers:

"If you find a nesting turtle or turtle hatchlings please:

- Watch the event from a respectful distance and DO NOT USE A TORCH, LIGHT OR CAMERA.

- Keep dogs on leash and away from turtles

- Let hatchlings make their own way to the ocean

"Reporting turtle sightings allows trained volunteers to safeguard nests from predation and to collect vital information, allowing us to better manage and protect our local population."

Lisa said contact points are:

- Golden Beach to Point Cartwright: TurtleCare Sunshine Coast 0437 559 067.

- Mooloolaba to Noosa: Coolum and District Coast Care, Sherida 0403 370 157 or Michelle 0413 597 724.

- For dead or injured turtles, call the Marine Strandings Hotline 1300 ANIMAL (264 625).

More information about sea turtles may be found at sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/turtlecare


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