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Critically Endangered: next stop, Extinction.

Updated: Nov 3

This article by Wildlife Team Lead Darren Jew is in response to a recent report ABC Brisbane published about the threats to Bribie Island’s upcoming turtle nesting season. The original report created a level of disquiet within the local community, due mostly to its focus on only one of the numerous threats turtles face directly on Bribie Island: that of uncontrolled numbers of 4WDs on the island’s nesting beach.

BIEPA would like to use this opportunity to spell-out the organisation’s position on turtle protection.

Status of turtles

Despite 80% of their nesting beaches being in “protected areas”, the South Pacific sub-population of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) is declining at a rate that sees it listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Redlist.

Every single loggerhead turtle hatchling born on Bribie Island is therefore critically important to the survival of their population.

Threats to turtles

All marine turtles living in the waters adjacent Bribie Island face threats: natural predation by sharks, fatal trauma from boat strike; drowning after being entangled in crab pots and lines; plastic ingestion; diseases caused by poor water quality; degradation of seagrass feeding habitat caused by poor coastal planning and development; and lastly: changes in range, breeding habits and cycles as oceans and sands warm.

In addition to these year-round marine threats, here’s another list: specific threats to the turtles that nest on Bribie Island’s eastern and southern beach:

  • Females are deterred from coming ashore to lay their eggs by bright lights on beaches.

  • Nesting attempts are aborted after disturbance by humans and dogs (turnarounds).

  • Females face entrapment in beach structures.

  • Vehicular traffic impacts the natural cycle of the nesting dunes.

  • Nests are sometimes inundated during severe storms.

  • Vehicle tracks cross hatchling runways, exposing hatchlings to longer treks and hence greater risk of exposure and predation.

  • Feral pigs and feral foxes can dig up nests and predate on the eggs.

  • Hatchlings are disoriented by artificial light glow.

  • Native goannas burrow into nests to predate on eggs.

  • Native seabirds and shorebirds predate on hatchlings between nest and ocean.

These known threats to turtles nesting on Bribie Island obviously extend beyond tyre tracks on beaches — and most are human-preventable. With their population in such a perilous state, each threat (including natural ones) needs to be assessed and then appropriately mitigated.

Extinction is forever

The localised extinction of Bribie Island’s emus, koalas and giant ground orchids — and the probable loss of the water mouse and long-nosed potoroo — are inexcusable tragedies that authorities have presided over. At a time when dugong face up-listing from Vulnerable to Endangered, Vulnerable inshore Australia humpback dolphin populations sharply decline, and the loggerhead population is on the brink, I would simply ask this question of anyone who believes nesting turtles do not warrant protection from threats:

Do you want to be known as one of the Bribie Islanders who watched over the next local extinction?

Awareness builds support

There is an undeniable tension between unfettered beach driving and the success of the turtle nesting season. Both a vacuum of turtle awareness, and a lack of protection measures exist. In the absence of management from authorities, Bribie Island’s turtles rely on committed volunteer Turtle Trackers to be on the beach every morning from November to April; to be their voice: and, during nesting season, to do whatever they can to ensure the maximum number of hatchlings make it safely from nest to ocean. BIEPA supports that work.

BIEPA believes awareness of Bribie Island’s nesting turtles, community acknowledgment of their significance and the growing Tread Lightly ethos is the foundation upon which protection can be built. In that spirit we look forward to celebrating the return of the turtles at the BIEPA Giant Turtle Event @ Woorim in the afternoon on Sunday November 12.

BIEPA will always put nature first.

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