World Turtle Day ‘shellebrations’ highlight importance – and plight – of SEQ’s turtles

They’re majestic, they’re cute and they’re synonymous with Queensland icons like the Great Barrier Reef and Moreton Bay, but did you know just how crucial marine turtles are to the environment?

Turtles were the talk of the Healthy Land and Water office on May 23 as part of World Turtle Day celebrations, a global movement to highlight threats to the world’s turtle populations.

Queensland is a bit of a hot-spot for turtles. The reptilia have nested on parts of Queensland’s coast for thousands of years and feature prominently in the cultural beliefs of many Indigenous coastal communities.

Healthy Land and Water Senior Principal Scientist Dr Paul Maxwell said Queensland is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles, and they continue to help balance the health of our oceans and waterways.

“They play a very important ecological role in our coastal communities and that’s why we must work hard to protect turtle populations,” he said.

“Marine turtles graze on sea grass blades which helps maintain the health and productivity of sea grass beds, and they consume seagrass seeds which they then excrete as they swim about, enabling sea grass habitats to spread.”

Dr Maxwell said marine turtles feast on a range of sea creatures like jellyfish which helps to balance marine food webs, and they also play a key role in cycling nutrients between the water and the land.

(And, just quietly, they’re a tasty food source for lots of other marine creatures, but let’s not focus on that).

Sadly, all of the world’s seven species are considered either rare or threatened, and the global population of turtles continues to fall in the face of increasing threats from marine pollution, climate change, habitat destruction and overharvesting.

Even within Moreton Bay, once considered a haven for turtles, the situation is precarious.

Each year, more turtles are becoming victims of disease, entanglement, boat strike and pollution, and the number of turtles ingesting plastic pollution is a growing concern.

Research conducted by University of Queensland found 30 per cent of the turtles found dead in Moreton Bay Marine Park had ingested some form of plastic.

With the theme of 2018 World Turtle Day focusing on the reduction of plastic pollution, Dr Maxwell said everyone can do their bit for turtle conservation efforts by reducing their reliance on plastic and changing their behaviour.

“Plastics like food packaging, straws, drink bottles and plastic bags are constantly washed into Moreton Bay and that poses a huge risk to turtles, who often mistake the floating plastic items as food,” he said.

“Always make sure you dispose of plastic responsibly, steer away from purchasing food wrapped in plastic and instead of buying plastic bottles, carry a re-usable water bottle instead.”

Dr Maxwell said visitors to Moreton Bay can also help by never leaving fishing equipment and crab pots behind.

“If we all do our bit, we can give turtles a fighting chance.”

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