Race to survive as baby turtles hatch

Shannon BeattiePilbara News
Green turtle hatchlings in Exmouth.
Camera IconGreen turtle hatchlings in Exmouth. Credit: Pictures: Violeta Brosig, Blue Media Exmouth, Violeta Brosig, Blue media Exmouth

The beginning of the year is turtle time and the Ningaloo coast is presently full of nests and little hatchlings getting ready to make their dash for the deep blue.

The laying season started in mid-November, and with an eight-week incubation period, the turtles started hatching in mid-January and will continue to hatch through March and into April.

The Ningaloo Turtle Program monitors about 20km of beaches near Exmouth and has recorded more than 2000 nests so far.

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Exmouth marine conservation officer Dani Rob said each nest would produce between 80 and 120 hatchlings depending on the species, but only one in 100 would reach breeding age. “They are subject to natural predation, so things like seagulls, crabs, snapper and sharks that will prey on the eggs and hatchlings,” she said.

“But there are also human influences like four-wheel-driving on the beach, dogs and artificial light.”

A green turtle hatchling in Exmouth.
Camera IconA green turtle hatchling in Exmouth. Credit: Blue Media Exmouth, Violeta Brosig

The hatchlings are drawn to light, so if there are any housing developments near a nesting beach, the turtles will go inland rather than down to the water.

People walking on the dunes is also one of the biggest threats to the hatchlings.

“They wait just below the sand for the light level to drop and they’ll come out in the cool of the evenings, so if people are wandering through the dunes they could crush the hatchlings,” Ms Rob said. She believes protecting the turtles is a moral obligation as they are an international endangered species.

“We have to make sure nesting turtles are undisturbed and the hatchlings have the best chance of reaching the water,” she said.

She said the most important things to keep the hatchlings safe was not to touch them, walk along the tide line and wait for them either first thing in the morning or around sunset.

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