Come out of shell for tur­tles

Fremantle Gazette - - NEWS - Ben Smith

EF­FORTS to pre­serve Bi­bra Lake’s na­tive tur­tle pop­u­la­tion are be­ing ramped up on the eve of nest­ing sea­son, with the City of Cock­burn re-it­er­at­ing the need to fur­ther re­duce mor­tal­ity rates.

The area’s pop­u­la­tion of threat­ened south­west­ern snake-necked tur­tles has showed signs of slight im­prove­ment since a hor­ror 2018, when 13 tur­tles were killed on Progress Drive in a sin­gle night.

Re­search by Mur­doch Uni­ver­sity PhD stu­dent An­thony San­toro found a dras­tic drop in in­ci­dents of nest­ing fe­males be­ing struck by ve­hi­cles, from 15 in 2018-19 to two in 2019-20.

His re­search also found the num­ber of nest­ing tur­tles killed by preda­tors had dropped from 25 to 17 and nests found raided by preda­tors had re­duced from 135 to 120.

But Mr San­toro said there was still much work to do and they could not af­ford to get com­pla­cent, es­pe­cially with nest­ing sea­son set to run from this month un­til Fe­bru­ary.

“These are small but im­por­tant gains and il­lus­trate how much work we need to do as a com­mu­nity to keep the pro­tec­tion of these ‘near threat­ened’ am­phib

ious rep­tiles a pri­or­ity,” he said.

“It’s also worth not­ing the level of mor­tal­ity at Bi­bra Lake is likely to be hap­pen­ing at other Perth wet­lands, which makes lo­cal sur­vival more vi­tal than ever.”

Mr San­toro said due to the tur­tles’ long life spans, de­layed sex­ual ma­tu­rity and

low hatch­ling sur­vival ( just 15 per cent make it back to their home wet­land), it would take at least a decade to see an up­ward shift in Bi­bra Lake pop­u­la­tion num­bers. His thoughts were echoed by City of Cock­burn en­vi­ron­ment man­ager Chris Beaton, who said these ef­forts needed to be re­peated

if the tur­tle pop­u­la­tion was to sur­vive and thrive longterm.

“On­go­ing re­search by Mr San­toro has shown mar­ginal im­prove­ments in the sur­vival of nest­ing fe­male tur­tles, their nests and hope­fully their hatch­lings over the past two years,” he said.

“But to see last­ing re­sults,

we need to stay on the ball for the fore­see­able fu­ture and bring the com­mu­nity with us in these ef­forts.”

One of the rea­sons for the im­prove­ment over the past year can be put down to a ded­i­cated group of ‘Tur­tle Track­ers’, vol­un­teers who helped pro­tect nests and eggs.

Mr San­toro helped estab­lish the cit­i­zen sci­ence pro­gram, which has about 30 vol­un­teers and in the past year iden­ti­fied 25 nests around Bi­bra Lake.

Those nests were pro­tected by cages in­stalled by project part­ners Na­tive ARC and The Wet­lands Cen­tre Cock­burn to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for nest­ing fe­males and their eggs from preda­tors.

Mr San­toro es­ti­mated about 50 per cent of these pro­tected eggs hatched, with about 25 hatch­lings suc­cess­fully mak­ing their way to the lake.

“Once the hatch­lings make it to the wa­ter, I think they have a de­cent shot at mak­ing it to re­pro­duc­tive age,” he said.

“This is why it’s very im­por­tant the com­mu­nity join us in pro­tect­ing as many of the nest­ing fe­males and their nests as pos­si­ble.”

The City of Cock­burn is help­ing fur­ther pro­tect nest­ing tur­tles with train­ing for new vol­un­teer Tur­tle Track­ers, in­creased feral an­i­mal con­trol in the area, im­proved fenc­ing, on­go­ing traf­fic ed­u­ca­tion along Progress Drive, wildlife cam­eras around Bi­bra Lake and GPS track­ers to aid re­search move­ments.

To be­come a Tur­tle Tracker, visit the City of Cock­burn web­site.

Pic­tures: City of Cock­burn

Vicky Har­till, An­thony San­toro and Rachel Pearsall with Tommy the tur­tle in Bi­bra Lake and inset, a ju­ve­nile south­west­ern snake-necked tur­tle, which is only the size of a 50c coin when born.

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