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Fierce heatwave too much for turtles in tourist spot

February 7, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

If the Australian heat seems a bit strong lately, spare a thought for young loggerhead turtles at Queensland’s famous Mon Repos beach.

They are perishing in the sun as a heatwave pushes the temperature of the sand up to a record 75 Celsius.

Mon Repos in Queensland’s Bundaberg region supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific.

Loggerhead turtle

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service conducts ranger-guided turtle encounters throughout the turtle season, as hatchlings emerge, generally between January to March. Tourists delight in watching the tiny hatchlings emerge from their sandy nests to scurry down the beach towards the sea.

The success of nesting and hatching turtles at Mon Repos is critical for the survival of the endangered loggerhead turtle. This year the turtles face a special challenge. While most turtle hatchlings move out of their nests at night when the sand is cooler, many escape by day and face the full force of the searing sun.

The extreme heat is conducted down to the turtle’s nest, pushing the temperature up to about 34C, which is approaching the lethal level for incubation, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection chief scientist, Dr Col Limpus, told ABC News.

That temperature is the hottest recorded in a nest for more than a decade.

Meeting a loggerhead turtle hatchling on a Mon Repos Turtle Encounter tour. Photo by Robert Ashdown, Queensland Government.

The average hatchling survival rate is usually 85% but will be a lot lower this year, Limpus says. Hundreds of hatchling turtles have been seen dead on the beach.

Rangers, scientists and volunteers at Mon Repos are working around the clock to save as many loggerhead hatchlings as possible. New nests are being recoated to hatchery areas beneath shade cloths, where sand surface temperatures are far cooler.

Written by Peter Needham

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