Volunteers save 100 hatchlings

Published 10:30am 11 February 2021

Volunteers save 100 hatchlings
Words by Kylie Knight

A small group of volunteers rescued about 100 turtle hatchlings this week, in a three-hour mission to redirect them to the safety of Moreton Bay.

They’re all members of Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association (BIEPA), a group which performs daily beach patrols during turtle nesting season from dawn.

BIEPA spokeswoman Diane Oxenford received a call from a volunteer at 5am to say she had found a previously unidentified nest and hatchlings, which needed urgent assistance.

The nest was near repair work which is being done to stairs leading down to the beach.

Diane says the hatchlings were hard to spot as they were wriggling around in the grass and they had become disorientated because the area had been disturbed.

“We raced down there and that’s when we started collecting them,” she says.

“We collected as many as we could and then saw them heading into the grass. They are supposed to go towards the glow of ocean but instead were attracted to the lights at the nearby high-rise building.

“We were worried we were going to walk on them. We think we found them all, but one even went way up to Rickman Pde along the street.”

Help make a difference

Diane would love property owners to follow the lead of other communities across Australia and around the world which have implemented physical changes to their buildings to reduce the risk of light pollution.

This can include turning off lights, using shutters, and installing shades over lights and different types of lighting.

“If there is sea spray in the air, it adds to the problem because it takes on the light,” she says.

She says there’s a well-known house at Bargara, which is right on the beach and has shutters to block out the effect of interior lights.

“It means we can live in harmony. These loggerhead turtles are on the verge of extinction - once they are gone, they’re gone.”

Diane thanked Moreton Bay Regional Council for the work it has done to reduce light pollution in the area, particularly at the Boyd St carpark, installing timers on picnic shelters, and turning lights off at the Fifth Ave toilet block.

She says Cr Brooke Savige (Div 1) had been great to work with and receptive to the group’s suggestions.

Mayor Peter Flannery says loggerhead turtles which nest annually on Bribie Island are a precious part of our ecology and island life.

“We had to act after receiving reports during the 2018/2019 breeding season that 45 out of 83 hatchlings had become disoriented, including reports that some were lost into stormwater drains and freshwater creeks,” Mayor Flannery says.

“Turning off street lights during nesting season is a simple, small change that we were happy to make. This trial started in Woorim in January 2019 after we identified five lights which were disrupting known turtle nesting areas in Woorim.

“We want to do everything we can to prevent adult turtles from becoming disoriented during nesting, and help as manage hatchlings as possible get out to sea. “In fact I believe this should lead to regional change, and have asked staff to investigate how we can retrofit lights in Woorim, Margate, Redcliffe and Scarborough to make them wildlife sensitive.”

What's happening?

The temporary lighting shut off will run until April 30 and affect the same lights subject to the 2019/20 light restriction trial, with the addition of one light at Edwin Schrag Memorial car park.

During the 2019/20 season, 11 nests hatched and were counted by Bribie Island Turtle Trackers, with 927 hatchlings successfully emerging.

In the 2019/20 season there were two disorientation events, one near Rickman Parade and Second Avenue (indicating further lighting shut off may be beneficial) and one on the darkened southern cost of Bribie Island, which is attributed to the location of the nest behind the crest of the foredune (where the hatchings could not see the glow of the ocean).

This project is a joint initiative between Council’s Environmental Services, Buildings and Facilities and Asset Maintenance teams.

Heartfelt thanks

Councillor Brooke Savige (Div 1) thanked her community for their advocacy on the issue and helping to bring about a necessary change.

“I want to thank locals and Bribie Island Turtle Trackers for not just identifying a problem, but coming to Council with a solution that we could action,” she says.

“Not only are we now restricting lights at night during breeding season, we also install shade cloths around turtles nests to keep them safe from dogs and prevent trampling. We shut off selected lights at Council foreshore parks and complexes at the car parks on the corner of Fifth Ave and Rickman Parade and the car park at South Boyd Street.

“The temporary lighting shut trial off ran successfully from January to March 2020, without incident or complaint, thanks to supportive residents and long summer daylight hours. Personally I think this trial has been an enormous success and I’ll be advocating for it to be implemented annually from January through to the end of April each year."

Volunteers save 100 hatchlings

Challenging season

Diane praised her BIEPA volunteers for their efforts in what has been a mixed season.

Three nests have so far been lost to erosion on the southern end of Bribie Island as a result of severe erosion caused by extreme weather, and volunteers have moved four to safer locations.

“We’ve had an unprecedented number of u-turns from turtles unable to find anywhere suitable to nest. There’s escarpment all the way from the southern end to the northern tip. We’ve lost at least half a dune all the way up,” she says.

The nesting season runs from November through to March/April, but some can hatch as late as May.

“It depends on how late the turtles lay their eggs. The average incubation is eight weeks, but it can take longer,” she says.

Protect our dunes

She’s calling on visitors and locals to stay off the dunes, which have already been depleted due to extreme weather this year.

When the dunes are disturbed, it not only puts the turtle eggs at risk, it also makes it difficult for volunteers to identify nests and do their job to protect the young.

They need to be able to see tracks up to the dunes, signs of nesting disturbance and tracks to the water.

What we can do to help

Turtles lay their eggs between November and February, and hatchlings emerge between December and April.

  • Keep off sand dunes and only use beach umbrellas well below the dunes
  • Dispose of plastics and unwanted fishing gear responsibly
  • Avoid shining bright lights on the beach at night during turtles nesting season, and
  • If you live adjacent to the beach, please consider switching off unnecessary lights and close your curtains and blinds from 7.30pm
  • The Moreton Bay Region forms part of the southern extent of this species’ nesting range, making these sites particularly important for producing potentially higher numbers of male hatchlings.

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