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Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

Opposition attacked over endangered turtle

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Chris Dobney

NSW environment minister Robyn Parker has hit back at opposition calls this week for protection of the Hawksbill sea turtle. In doing so she was relying on data that are 15 years old.

On Tuesday, to coincide with International Day of Biological Diversity, Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) released three of the rare Hawksbill sea turtles at Byron Bay. They had been victims of the summer floods. So had 27 others that were rescued but, despite the ASR’s best efforts, failed to survive.

Announcing the release, ASR acting general manager Keith Williams raised the fact that the NSW government had yet to list the creatures, of which only 25,000 nest per year worldwide – as endangered.

‘It is a great concern to us that these turtles are not afforded sufficient protection in NSW,’ he said, bringing their plight to public awareness.

The issue was taken up next day by shadow environment spokesperson Luke Foley, who chose the day to release a biodiversity plan.

He also called on minister Parker to ‘request the NSW Scientific Committee to make a determination on the possible addition of the Hawksbill sea turtle to the state’s threatened species list, to give this rare and beautiful creature the protection it deserves’.

In her response, Ms Parker accused him of ‘political opportunism’.

‘The fact is, all the expert advice to date is the sea turtle is most commonly found in tropical waters and is not at risk in NSW waters. Important research backs this up,’ she said.

Minister Parker even acknowledged in her media release that the ‘expert advice’ she was relying on, by reputed reptile researcher Dr Harold Cogger, was last reviewed in 2000.

The most recent statistics in his report, The status of marine reptiles in NSW, are from 1998. Despite requests by Echonetdaily to comment on the likely accuracy of a 13-year-old report containing 15-year-old data, the minister failed to do so.

‘The Hawksbill sea turtle does not nest in NSW and the species was considered “secure and stable” throughout its core breeding range,’ Ms Parker said in the release, quoting the Cogger report.

But Keith Williams says that just because the turtles don’t nest in our region it is a mistake to suggest they do not transit through it and indeed rely on it to forage for food.

‘All of the turtles we rescued were below breeding age. This species is so endangered that every turtle counts. For every turtle that fails to make it to breeding age the chances for this species’ survival get slimmer.’

He added that ASR had never been approached by the committee or the minister regarding the status of the Hawksbill turtle.

At the request of minister Parker’s media adviser we submitted a list of questions for response.

The minister declined to answer any of our questions directly, instead issuing the following blanket statement.

‘The Committee makes it clear that if further information relevant to the status of the Hawksbill sea turtle in NSW is made available, a review of the species will be undertaken. The Australian Seabird Rescue has a proud history of rescuing and caring for species of sea and shorebirds and rescuing and rehabilitating injured marine reptiles and turtles along the eastern coast. It should be stressed that any organisation like Australian Seabird Rescue can make a nomination to list a species at any time. Nomination forms, available from the Committee and on the NSW environment website, provide details on the relevant information and data that should be included in any nomination.’

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