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Why make their lives harder?

Baby turtle swimming in the ocean after just hatching on Heron Island
A baby turtle's first moments literally swimming for its life at Heron Island. Image credit: Duncan Heuer

Last month, I was lucky enough to visit Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef for a brief visit to paradise. On this beautiful, tiny island, you can stay overnight, and at the right time of the year, you can watch baby turtles hatch from their nests and come running to the shore to start their journey of life. It was the first time I had seen baby turtles, other than the cartoon character in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. They are honestly the most amazingly cute animals! Just imagine hundreds of cute baby turtles running beside your feet, heading out to sea to start their lives.

Their first day of life is hard. They hatch from their shells and dig their way up out of the sand where their nest was made. Then with all their might, they run as fast as they can towards the ocean. On their way to the shore, seagulls and other birds swoop in to gobble them up. But if they survive that first gauntlet, it's not over for them.

A seagull catches a baby turtle at Heron Island. It's estimated only 1 out 1000 turtles make it to adulthood.

As they enter the ocean, a line of stingrays and sharks lie in waiting, ready to gobble them up too. And if they manage to get past that next gauntlet, they have to keep swimming and stay hidden from the birds that continue to chase them and catch them as they swim away from shore.

They can only hold their breath for a few seconds at a time during these first hours of their life and so whilst staying so close to the surface of the water, it is even easier for birds to spot them and swoop in to gobble them up.

Turtles do not nest every year. When they lay a nest, it will only include on average around 100 turtle eggs. Of those eggs, it is estimated that only 1 in every 1000 turtles make it through to adulthood.

Every marine turtle species is now considered endangered according to the IUCN Red List.

Plastic is one of their biggest threats and it is estimated that 91% of turtles that get caught in discarded fishing gear or floating plastic will die.

In addition to climate change (and the impact that has on critical turtle habitats), and the threat of discarded fishing gear and plastics in the ocean, every year turtles are also entangled and die in shark nets and drumlines along New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) coasts.

Non-target animals get caught in shark nets like this endangered turtle off the coast of QLD. Image obtained under Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) Ref: 19-347, QLD Shark Control Program 2019

This senseless killing of protected and non-target wildlife in these shark nets and drumlines will continue if we don’t speak up, because the existing laws that are supposed to keep our endangered wildlife safe are not enough.

In late January 2022, a swimmer rescued an entangled turtle from a shark net at Manly, NSW. That turtle was saved, but how many more will die before the shark nets are replaced with modern technology that doesn’t harm wildlife?

It is estimated that NSW shark nets kill a turtle every 20 days.

And in QLD since 2001, shark nets and lethal drumlines have caught 899 turtles (February 2022 update). All turtles caught suffer, and even if they are released alive, they don't always survive due to injuries and the overwhelming stress they experience. And that applies to all animals that get caught Win the shark nets. They all suffer.

There is no evidence that lethal devices such as shark nets and drumlines keep swimmers safe from shark bites. So, I have two questions for key government leaders in QLD and NSW:

  1. Why are we making the lives of turtles harder by stringing up lethal drumlines and shark nets?

  2. And how can this happen given that marine turtles in Australian waters are protected under federal, NSW and QLD legislation?

Having just watched first hand how tough the lives of turtles are in the beginning, and how few ever make it to adulthood, I wonder for what reason NSW and QLD governments continue to use lethal devices such as shark nets at beaches. They injure and kill protected and non-target marine wildlife. These devices could be replaced with modern solutions designed to keep swimmers safe and that do not kill turtles or other marine life.

Turtle swimming just at Heron Island
Turtle at Heron Island. Marine turtles can live to 100 years.

I want future generations to experience what I witnessed this month, and this is why I will continue writing to my Member of Parliament (MP) and keep encouraging others to do so. We must end the needless shark cull, not just for the sake of sharks, but for the sake of all beautiful marine life that suffers in the wake of a false sense of security for beachgoers, promoted by the NSW and QLD governments.

We need to speak up because existing protection laws in Australia are not enough to stop shark nets killing endangered turtles and other marine life. Please write to your MP and let them know you want the cruel shark nets replaced with non-killing alternatives.


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