OPINION: Time to talk turtles

John Clarke has been investigating recent reporting from local media of turtle death numbers.

THE NSW Fisheries laws controlling the methods of crabbing in Port Stephens were changed ten years ago to protect our significant turtle population.

Witches hats, nets and crab traps, with an entry of over 32cm, were banned in our waters specifically to protect turtles.

The change in laws has been very successful with only one death of a turtle reported in a trap in Tea Gardens over the decade.

I read, with some amazement through the local press, relating to speed limits on jet skis: “41 dead turtles were recovered over the summer months… with their shells crushed”.

Needing to uncover the facts, I firstly contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for their figures since October.

The answer was three dead turtles reported over that period, one with suspected boat strike, the other two deaths unknown.

These figures were agreed upon by Marine Parks and Maritime.

Furthering my investigation, I contacted commercial fishermen who work the port, particularly west harbour.

They agreed with NPWS.

I finally contacted Sea Shelter, who do an excellent job in sea life rehabilitation at the Shark and Ray Centre at Anna Bay.

Their figures on turtle deaths in Port Stephens since October 2023 were 34, seven of which were the result of boat strikes.

None could be definitely attributed to jet skis.

We have a problem which we need to address as a community. Firstly, the wide gap in statistics shows that there is little communication with those who care for our turtle population.

With nearly everyone carrying a phone camera, wouldn’t it be a simple exercise to take a snap of the turtle then forward it to anyone of the agencies or Sea Shelter with your name, time and place that the grim discovery was made.

Then that information could be verified, documented and shared.

The next issue, as I see it, if we take the figures from Sea Shelter, around fifteen percent of turtle deaths are attributed to boat strikes – what are the other 85 percent dying from?

Plastics, a virus or natural attrition?

Considering the population of turtles in Port Stephens, numbers available through Taronga, 200-500, surely we have some responsibility for their safety.

Regarding the issue with jet skis, could I suggest we consult with the relevant agency, Maritime, rather than reporting misinformation.

By John ‘Stinker’ Clarke

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