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Only ‘One’ in Ten Thousand Survive!

Story by Alistair Gray

Pictures by Diane Oxenford

There were tears in my eyes as I realised that the Loggerhead turtles, the primary turtle species nesting on Bribie Island, were on the verge of extinction. And incredibily according to studies, only one in ten thousand hatchlings will survive and return to breed where they were born, either on Bribie Island, or other Southeast Queensland Rookies.

I have just spent over two hours with Diane Oxenford, President of BIEPA (Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association Inc), and a Bribie Island Turtle Tracker. I learned how tiny hatchlings imprint magnetic fields as they emerge from their nests in the dunes and scurry across the beach to their new marine home. It was amazing to hear how the Loggerheads travel to South America, on ocean currents, to return thirty years later to lay clutches of up to 120 eggs to continue the cycle of life.

Diane is part of a small group of dedicated environmental warriors. They cover 15 kilometres of Bribie shoreline daily to identify and monitor the local turtle nesting population from November through to April. Diane showed me pictures of the tracks the turtles leave on the beach and how turtles climb into the dunes high above the waterline, through dune grasses to lay their eggs in a small deep hole in the sand.

About sixty days later, the hatchlings break free of their shells and incredibly climb out of the nest to navigate through the dune grasses, sliding toward the beach and making their way to the waterline. Like migratory birds, they imprint the magnetic fields to help them return to their beaches of birth approx 30 years later to lay their precious egg clutches.

The race is on as Loggerhead Turtle Hatchlings make their way to the water's edge.

"The ecosystem is finely balanced, and it is critical we all are conscious of the impact we each have on our natural environment", Diane said.

‘Turtles Dig the Dark’

Nesting turtles avoid brightly lit beaches subsequently reducing their nesting habitat. In addition, artificial lighting along the coast confuses and misdirects hatchlings emerging from nests in the dunes, as the light appears brighter than the sea surface horizon making the turtles more vulnerable to predators, dehydration, and exhaustion. Thankfully the Moreton Bay Regional Council is working with Bribie's Turtle Trackers to solve most of these challenges.

However, four-wheeled drive vehicles on the beaches remain a significant problem during the turtle nesting and hatching season. Those who illegally drive above the high-water level in the dunes do massive damage to the turtle hatchery. Unfortunately, most drivers are completely unaware they have done any harm, believing that because they haven't seen any turtles, there aren't any there.

Mum Loggerhead Turtle has just laid her eggs and is quickly returning to the sea.

Diane told the story of one four-wheeled drive owner who had been driving on the beach for five years and had never seen a turtle. He became very excited to discover a turtle laying her eggs in the dune and contacted Diane wanting the eggs protected. This experience brought about an immediate change in the drivers attitude and a new convert to the cause. Diane also stressed that BIEPA was not after a ban driving on the beach but wanted drivers to keep well away from the dunes, to not disturb nesting turtles, and avoid leaving ruts in the soft sand, which prevents hatchlings from reaching the sea.

With the arrival of a goanna plundering the turtles nest, Bribie's Turtle Trackers face another challenge in protecting the hatcheries. The affected area will need wire mesh protection.

We should all be very grateful for the hard work and dedication of this small group of volunteers looking after Bribie's turtle hatchery. They are doing a brilliant job!

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My name is Andrew Powell and I have had the honour of serving the wonderful people of the Glass House electorate since 2009. In its current form, the electorate includes Beerburrum and parts of Elimba

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