Citizen scientists are being urged to join the fight to save an iconic species from a slow but devastating decline.
Those with an interest in protecting freshwater turtles are invited to attend a webinar to learn how to identify, monitor and safeguard turtle nests by placing mesh over egg-sites to stop foxes from destroying countless young animals before they can even hatch.
The webinar, presented by the 1Million Turtles program, will be launched on Tuesday, November 1, at 6.30 pm. Those wishing to take part can register here to join the webinar.
La Trobe University scientist James Van Dyke, who’s leading the fight to save turtles, says apparently healthy numbers of the animals in local rivers and wetlands may give the impression that turtle populations are in good shape – but appearances are deceiving.
“What we are finding almost everywhere in the Murray catchment is that we don’t see young turtles, even young adults or those in their ‘teens’,” he said.
“We think we have a problem with foxes destroying the nests so you may see a lot (of turtles) but they’re all big ones.
“They just keep getting older and older and they could disappear quite rapidly.”
That’s where the citizen scientists could make a real difference.
Dr Van Dyke says an army of trained volunteers could help to arrest the decline by protecting nests where eggs have been laid.
Testing with buried chicken eggs protected by wire mesh has proved effective in stopping fox predation so scientists are hoping widespread netting could help to prevent turtles as a species literally dying out from old age.
“There’s little things that people can do in an afternoon,” Dr Van Dyke said. “They don’t have to dedicate their lives to it but even a few hours really helps – and it’s getting people excited about protecting turtles.”
Volunteers who do the training will not be allowed to touch any turtles they find but their efforts to collect data and protect nests could make all the difference in the long term.
Meanwhile, Dr Van Dyke and fellow scientists donned their waders and raincoats this week to inspect breeding sites on council-owned wetlands.
Melbourne Cup day is the unofficial start to the breeding season but the researchers are keen to find out whether the unusually cold spring weather has slowed the season this year.
Wodonga Council will continue to support the research at other council-owned sites and as volunteer numbers grow, it’s hoped enough can be done to ensure turtles continue to be a familiar sight in rivers, creeks and wetlands across our region.