by CHRIS TAYLOR
As the recent destructive floods swept through Brisbane, it wasn’t just humans urgently needing to move to higher ground. A clutch of about 80 endangered loggerhead turtle eggs were relocated from an incubator in South Bank’s Queensland Museum to the relative safety of the sand dunes at Warana Beach.
The turtles were due to hatch during the World Science Festival Brisbane in March as part of a popular hatchery research showcase event and then released back into the wild 20km off Mooloolaba into the Australian Eastern Current.
Originally sourced from the Mon Repos turtle rookery in the Bundaberg region, to complete their incubation Queensland Museum senior curator of reptiles and amphibians Patrick Couper made the call to move them back to a natural habitat.
“We returned the eggs to the Sunshine Coast because of the flood impacts that prevented us from delivering the hatchery event,” he says. “There was significant flooding on South Bank, causing the museum to close. There was also the possibility of a power outage shutting down the incubator.
“Returning the eggs to a beach, rather than hatching them in the security of an incubator, is letting nature run its course.”
The hatchery has been a mainstay of the science festival since its inaugural opening in 2016, affording the public a valuable insight into what normally happens 60cm deep within the sand.
Sunshine Coast Council conservation officer Kate Hofmeister said the move was a success thanks to the Warana TurtleCare volunteers who assisted overseeing the hatchings. She says the weather and associated coastal impacts have been the biggest challenge for the Sunshine Coast turtle season this year.
“Thanks to the quick response and dedication of our expert TurtleCare volunteers during all weather – wind, rain or big swells – we were able to give our hatchlings the best chance of making it to the ocean,” she says.
Although Patrick was hugely disappointed the science festival was unable to go ahead this year, he says he is indebted to council and TurtleCare for their help.
“They selected an appropriate site, dug the nests, covered them with protective mesh and monitored them until all the hatchlings had emerged,” he says. “They provided us with a pre-arranged back-up plan if the event was cancelled through unforeseen circumstances.”
He says most of the turtles successfully hatched in line with other loggerhead nests on the Sunshine Coast, making it to the ocean – where their challenge for survival really begins.
“Once the turtles leave Australia, it will be 16 years before we see them again,” he says. “Only one in 1000 hatchlings is said to survive to maturity, but the survival rate may be much lower still.”
The hatchery event is designed to educate people on how declining Australian loggerhead turtle populations have now been reversed thanks to conservation, but that many threats remain in the wild, from plastics and chemical pollutions to predation, coastal lighting, ghost nets and other fishing industry threats.