Help Team Turtle keep an eye on the nesting population this summer
AS SUMMER approaches, so too does turtle nesting season, with one dedicated volunteer spotting a flatback heading out to sea at sunrise on Wednesday morning.
Team Turtle CQ recruits and trains locals who regularly walk the beaches to report turtles, tracks and nesting sites.
Fitzroy Basin Association's Shannon van Nunen began the program in 2007 after he identified a gap in turtle research between Bundaberg and Mackay.
"There were lots of enthusiasts doing their own thing, keeping an eye out for our marine wildlife, but there was little co-ordination about how they should respond to a sighting," he said.
Now there are 54 registered team members, from Stanage in the north to Wild Cattle Island in the south, who log beach activity via the FBA website.
Interestingly, a nil sighting is as valuable to researchers as the presence of nesting turtles.
"Turtles tend to lay eggs every second year, and volunteers are helping us understand how they alternate between nesting sites," Mr Van Nunen said.
"There are 1000 kms of beaches in this region and people don't live on all stretches, so Team Turtle is instrumental in helping us understand the hot spots to protect."
The FBA helps volunteers with training into what they can and can't do, and provides the financial support for some to undergo training at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre near Bundaberg.
However Mr Van Nunen said there was plenty that every beachgoer could do to help the sea turtles.
"There is a real opportunity for the public to engage with the sea turtles moreso than the freshwater, 'bum breathing' turtles, which often nest on private property," he said.
"But there are real risks to their habitats from 4WDing and other human activity.
"It's not just the direct risk of a vehicle crushing a nest, but even the wheel ruts can prove insurmountable for a baby turtle that's expended most of its energy in the hatching process."
Mr Van Nunen said it's important for the public not to interfere with turtles they find, which can attract hefty fines, but to log their location, time and photo via the FBA website.
This year, the association is asking people to do their part in protecting marine species by reducing, avoiding and recycling.
Mother turtles may give up on laying eggs if they cannot dig through the rubbish on nesting beaches.
Hatchlings may never find their way from egg to ocean if they become disorientated or entangled in land-based rubbish.
In the ocean, turtles may eat plastic waste (especially plastic bags that look like jellyfish) which can cause injuries to their internal organs and sometimes result in death.
Last season, for example, the volunteers responded to reports of a ghost net drifting on shore at Zilzie, hauling metres of netting out of the ocean.
"It can be a matter of being mindful where you put your waste, but there are even tiny microplastics in beauty products which eventually make their way down the drains and into the ocean," Mr Van Nunen said.
Marine turtles have been nesting on Central Queensland beaches between November and January for more than 150 million years, but between climate change and the human factor, six of their seven species are struggling to survive.