More turtle sightings lead to community conservation program

A newly launched citizen science program invites Gold Coasters to engage in the protection of our beloved sea turtles.

Turtles are more frequently observed nesting along Gold Coast beaches. In March 2020, hatchlings were found stranded in sand dunes, and the public’s quick response ensured they were rehabilitated and released back into the ocean. This triggered Watergum and Sea World to partner up and bring us TurtleWatch, a fun and educational volunteer opportunity, akin to other citizen science programs like PlatypusWatch and the Humpbacks and Highrises whale research program.

Lauren Morgan, Watergum’s Turtlewatch Officer, tells us “the TurtleWatch Gold Coast program aims to close the gap in data deficiency regarding turtle nesting activities in their southern ranges and raise community awareness of turtle conservation.”

Citizen science programs are recognised as an effective method of marine and coastal conservation. TurtleWatch volunteers will collect valuable information such as species of turtle, nesting locations and frequency, and emergence success of clutches.  Data is uploaded to the Queensland turtle research database​ and is used to make management decisions at state level for this iconic species.

“It is important we establish a baseline now for numbers and frequency of nesting turtles as we may start to see the nesting population start to migrate into the southern ranges as sea turtles start to adapt to the changing climate” says Siobhan Houlihan, Sea Turtle Specialist at Sea World.

The Gold Coast is fortunate to be home to six out of seven of the world’s marine turtle species; Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Flatback, Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles are all frequently spotted cruising in the Gold Coast Bay. Yet turtles face many anthropogenic threats, such as plastic pollution, boat strike and fishing entanglement.

“We hope, as part of the TurtleWatch program, we can create change through education and monitoring” says Siobhan.

TurtleWatch will run during the turtle nesting season in summer, from November to March. Training will occur monthly, so follow the Watergum and Seaworld Facebook pages to find out when registration opens.

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