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Byron Shire
June 15, 2024

Bloody death of a grand old turtle

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[author]Story Chris Dobney Photo Jeff Dawson[/author]

A mature 90cm female loggerhead turtle died on Pottsville beach on Wednesday after suffering what appeared to be a propeller strike from a passing boat.

By the time National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) rangers arrived at the scene to retrieve it on Thursday the turtle had disappeared, possibly washed back out to sea.

NPWS spokesperson Lawrence Orel told Echonetdaily that such occurrences were doubly tragic, given the declining number of turtles of reproductive age left in our waters.

‘It takes at least 20 years for a turtle to reach reproductive maturity,’ he said.

Kath Southwell, north coast coordinator of Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR), said it was hard to say whether the animal was suffering from ingested plastic but this is a common cause of death and complications among marine turtles worldwide and around 60 per cent of the animals ASR treats have ingested plastic.

Dr Kathy Townsend, manager of research and education at University of Queensland’s Moreton Bay Research Station, said, ‘the plastic gets trapped in the gut, preventing food from going down.

‘The trapped food decomposes, leaking gases into the body cavity and causing the animal to float.

‘The turtle then slowly starves to death or succumbs to other secondary life-threatening conditions such as boat strike.’

People who see stranded turtles can phone Australian Seabird Rescue on 0428 862 852 and leave a message.

Ms Southwell said even if the animal appears dead, to call ASR, as sometimes the turtles are still alive and can be rescued.

Mr Orel said NPWS is particularly keen to hear from people who see evidence of turtle nests.

‘If people notice a turtle nesting – or possibly the tracks that they have made, given turtles generally nest at night – NPWS can monitor the site to prevent either deliberate or inadvertent damage,’ he said.

‘Dogs, four-wheel-drives and storm surges can all take their toll on turtle eggs.’

He added that where there is a potential danger, NPWS will either relocate the nest by moving it up the beach or take the eggs away for incubation.

Phone NPWS Tweed office on 6670 8600 or Ballina-Byron on 6620 9300.

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