Saturday 23 May is World Turtle Day, a day in which people can celebrate (or shell-abrate, in the words of the founding organisation American Tortoise Rescue) and promote the conservation and humane treatment of turtles and tortoises around the globe.
As the island continent, Australia has many reasons to care about World Turtle Day. We are surrounded by some of the richest and most diverse marine habitats in the world, from the tropical reefs and mangrove coasts in the north, to the cooler temperate seas and deep oceans of the south. Our seas are rich with marine life and have more recorded species than any other nation. Importantly, many of these species are found only within Australian waters – making their conservation all the more important.
Our seas are rich with marine life and have more recorded species than any other nation.
In fact, we have 29 species of turtle, ranging from the small plate sized flat-shelled turtle of central Western Australia to the massive, two metre plus leatherback turtles in our tropical and temperate oceans. All six of the seven marine turtles found in Australian waters are listed as vulnerable or worse, as are 11 of the 23 freshwater species that live in our inland streams, rivers and wetlands.
All six of the seven marine turtles found in Australian waters are listed as vulnerable or worse…
Why are turtles important?
Turtles can trace their origins back over 200 million years, and as a result have evolved to play a key part in our natural ecosystems. Turtles have a varied diet and play a crucial part in nutrient recycling and maintaining water quality in our waterways and seas: They consume everything from insects, plants and algae to fish, crustaceans and jellyfish, maintaining the amount of pests and vegetation in rivers and helping disperse seeds.
What are the threats and pressures?
Turtle populations are under threat as a result of human activity. Mitigating this threat will require action specifically targeted at turtles as well as moves to reduce global warming, habitat destruction and pollution.
Introduced species often prey on turtle eggs, with scientists noting that single foxes along parts of the Murray River destroy over 90 per cent of freshwater turtle eggs. Drought also takes its toll, with hard surface clay preventing hatchlings from escaping from underground riverside nests.
Marine turtles also suffer as a result of human activity. As grazers, marine turtles feeding on seagrass or jellyfish often consume discarded plastics, choking them or clogging their gut. Marine turtles are also familiar victims of destructive fishing practises, such as being caught or tangled on active or abandoned longlines or being caught by indiscriminate nets as by-catch.
What are the solutions?
A healthy marine, coastal and river environment is crucial to the survival of turtles. Whether its opposing new resource extraction projects like the Adani Coalmine (which will disrupt crucial Green and Flatback turtle nesting grounds) or repairing eroded shores and improving water quality along the Great Barrier Reef, the environmental action AEGN members support is tangible and has real world results. Any action taken to preserve Australia’s natural heritage, from local grassroots conservation work to nationwide climate policy advocacy, is essential to securing our future and a future for the turtles.
You can help in the following ways:
- Post a project in the Clearinghouse
- Contact us to connect you with other funders who work on turtle projects
- Look in our directory of Australian environmental organisations
- Read our marine briefing note
The photo we have used here was taken by AEGN member and talented photographer Steve Rothfield earlier this year. If you would like to view more of his images (or use them as backgrounds in your zoom meetings), he has kindly provided the following galleries: