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Turtles in Trouble

By Gill Baker, Wangaratta Sustainability

Long Necked Turtles (also called Eastern Snake Necked Turtles or ‘stinkers’, are often seen  crossing our wetland lined road.  In the absence of a Turtle Crossing Supervisor they are surely taking their lives in their little webbed feet.  Fortunately, on this quiet country road it is usually possible to stop a vehicle safely to carry one across, holding it out carefully as these creature’s main defence when ‘attacked’ by a potential predator is to squirt nasty smelly stuff on them.

Our Long Necked Tortoise populations, until recently quite healthy, are threatened, largely by traffic, but also by loss of habitat as available wetland areas diminish.  Foxes and other predators will destroy nests, eat the eggs, which have a long incubation period, and the baby turtles.

Marine turtles have shown a serious decline in populations.  One of the best known,  the Leatherback Turtle, is commonly found in Australian  coastal waters. Research indicates that this turtle is seriously threatened by human behaviour.  Entanglement in fishing lines or nets, ingesting plastic based human waste, and polluted water threaten the turtles while at sea, where they are also hunted by indigenous peoples. Their eggs and baby turtles are vulnerable to feral animals while on land. Climate change  is increasing sand temperature beyond the limits for nesting, and flooding traditional nesting beaches.  Some conservation programs are attempting to protect the beaches from erosion by bringing in more sand, but at this stage it is literally a drop in the ocean.

The Gulf Snapping Turtle (doesn’t the name say everything?)  is a native of northern Australia, where it lives along river banks.  Like the Leatherback it is endangered, threatened by disturbance of nesting sites and from trampling and destruction of habitat by watering cattle.

Like so much of our wildlife these ancient animals were around 20 million years before we were, rather than causing their demise we should be focussing on ways to conserve them.  Fox control measures are a priority, as is protecting river banks from cattle.  We can all do simple things like disposing of rubbish appropriately, especially near waterways, careful removal of accidently caught animals from fishing nets or lines, and ensuring broken lines are removed, driving carefully in high turtle risk areas, and reporting any deliberate acts of cruelty.