Concerns for turtles in the Blue Mountains during nesting season

One of Australia’s leading zoologists, Dr Ricky Spencer, says turtles in the Blue Mountains are under serious threat.

Dr Spencer, of Woodford, is working with a team of his Ph.D students to promote TurtleSAT, a citizen science platform to map turtle populations nationwide.

But he’s also hopeful an island nesting station can be built at Wentworth Falls Lake and Glenbrook Lagoon. so the eastern long-necked turtles have a better chance of a long life, and he is in talks with council about the proposal.

Talking to council about the proposal: An island platform to help turtle hatchlings on Wentworth Falls Lake.

Talking to council about the proposal: An island platform to help turtle hatchlings on Wentworth Falls Lake.

These floating island platforms on popular water playgrounds would double turtle hatchlings chances of survival and help with water quality, Dr Spencer said.

“It’s one of the projects we’re starting to develop – it means they [the turtles] are away from the foxes. This is the first time [for the project]. We might get a small trial one in a pond at The Gully in Katoomba first. If you create it big enough [on the lake] you will get migratory water birds … and yabbies underneath.” 

Need more attention: A two-year-old turtle at Wentworth Falls Lake. The Mountains are an important habitat for eastern long-necked turtles – especially around Wentworth Falls Lake and Glenbrook Lagoon.

Need more attention: A two-year-old turtle at Wentworth Falls Lake. The Mountains are an important habitat for eastern long-necked turtles – especially around Wentworth Falls Lake and Glenbrook Lagoon.

Dr Spencer is getting ready to trial a platform at the Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury campus where he works as an ecology professor, and is busy in discussions with SPEL environmental who create the systems. His team will apply for an environmental grant next year.

Blue Mountains Greens councillor for Ward 2, Brent Hoare is supporting Dr Spencer’s awareness campaign.

“Tragically, there is a pressing need to raise community awareness of the vulnerability of our precious turtle population in November, as it is their nesting season, and they are on the move,” Cr Hoare said.

"Everybody has the opportunity to help scientists by recording any live or dead turtle sightings at TurtleSAT.org.au or by using their mobile apps. Only by building up a more accurate picture of where turtles live and where they are most in danger will we have the ability to protect these vulnerable creatures,” he added.

Turtles were an important indicator of a healthy ecosystem and were particularly active during rain and storms. Both Cr Hoare and Dr Spencer advised drivers to save a life “by moving the turtle off the road in the direction it was heading” if they encountered a turtle.

TurtleSAT launched in 2014 with more than 1000 sightings reported last year.

“Time is running out for turtles, they are already on the path down to be wiped out,” Dr Spencer said. 

“The eastern long necks are the most terrestrial, they get out on the land more than the others  – all the [mortality] recordings on roads are eastern long necks. 

“They get hit on the road – and 95 per cent of nests are destroyed each year,” Dr Spencer said, who hopes that sightings of live and dead turtles will outline “hot spots” and lead to more “turtle crossing” signage and special fencing and guttering to lead them to safety.

Dr Spencer said his team hoped to build the turtle islands in wetlands around the Blue Mountains as part of a network throughout western Sydney.

He said the Wentworth Falls concept was “certainly high priority, but there will still be a while to go before it happens”.

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