Quad bikes disturbing turtle habitat recorded by photographer in Far North Queensland

A wildlife photographer says he was defending a vital turtle nesting habitat when he was allegedly charged at by a motorbike rider on a beach in Far North Queensland yesterday.

Local resident Russell Constable captured footage of the incident involving himself and three people at Bramston Beach, south of Cairns.

It shows a young man in a singlet pushing Mr Constable with his hands before mounting a dirt bike and driving directly at Mr Constable.

A man and woman who were part of the group appeared to be trying to de-escalate the situation by restraining their friend and asking Mr Constable to leave.

The local photographer said he was extremely shaken by the incident, which was reported to police.

“When someone charges you with a motorbike and actually hits you hard enough to bust one of Canon’s toughest cameras, I would consider that to be the worst by far.”

Mr Bramston said the incident escalated when he began photographing the riders to document the use of quad bikes on the beach, which is prohibited.

“They asked what I was doing and I explained that vehicles aren’t meant to be on the beach,” he said.

“I took the threats very seriously.”

Police attended the scene when Mr Constable’s wife made a call to emergency services yesterday afternoon.

Mr Constable says he has been documenting illegal vehicle use in the area and providing it to authorities for years.(Supplied: Russell Constable)

Expert says baby turtles at risk

Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre director Jennie Gilbert said the ongoing use of quad bikes on Bramston Beach was extremely concerning.

“It’s a vital turtle nesting habitat. It’s a large nesting area for turtles to come up,” she said.

Ms Gilbert said quad bike use over time compacted the sand, making it hard for mother turtles to crawl up the beach to nest.

“And when those turtles — those little eggs — are ready to hatch, if they’ve got compacted sand some of them just don’t get through,” she said.

“They just die in the nest, they just don’t get up to the surface.

She said quad bikes had been an ongoing issue for a number of years on beaches in Far North Queensland, including Bramston and Cowley, further south.

Some young men on quad bikes and a motorbike riding on a beach
Quad bikes can compact sand and make it difficult for baby turtles to get through to the surface.(Supplied: Russell Constable)

Environmental degradation concerns

Mr Constable, who has received an award from Conservation Queensland for his advocacy work, said police, the council and other government agencies needed to come together to tackle the issue.

“It’s been ongoing for a decade,” he said.

He said he had provided extensive documentation of illegal vehicle use and camping in the area over a number of years, but it had not been resolved.

“What we’re seeing, especially at the northern end of the beach, is environmental degradation,” he said.

“No one group is taking responsibility.

“I’d like to see a unified effort … all of these groups get together around the table and come up with a management plan.”

Queensland Police, Cairns Regional Council and the Environment Department have been contacted for comment.

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Coast Guard Rescues Loggerhead Turtle Tangled in Line

Coast Guard Rescues Loggerhead Turtle Tangled in Line

The US Coast Guard in Cape May, New Jersey, teamed up with Marine Mammal Stranding Center to rescue a loggerhead turtle tangled in a line on June 12. Footage by the coast guard shows a crew assisting a technician from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center as they managed to free the turtle, which had become tangled near the Miah Maull Lighthouse. According to the post, the turtle weighed about 200 pounds. Credit: US Coast Guard Station Cape May via Storyful

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Turtle wrongly released into central Australian waterhole prompts ranger’s ire

It was supposed to be a good deed, but this act of kindness has attracted the ire of local park rangers.

A dinner plate sized Murray River turtle on the loose at the Alice Springs golf course.(Nathan Coates)

Parks and Wildlife NT said at least five Murray River turtles had been wrongly released into a prominent central Australian waterhole.

“There are no native of turtles in central Australia,” said wildlife ranger John Tyne.

And yet, Mr Tyne said, he had photographic evidence of members of the community releasing five of the interstate turtle species into Ellery Creek Big Hole over the long weekend.

The park ranger said he believed the turtles had been rescued from the Alice Springs golf course ponds, which were being drained.

“I suspect they thought they were doing the right thing, a kind-hearted citizen seeing some turtles in distress and plopping them in the nearest pond,” said Mr Tyne.

“I will be in touch with the people to have a conversation about this.”

The members of the community could face fines of over $1,000 per turtle.

Delicate ecosystem

Mr Tyne said that because water was so scarce in central Australia, its few water systems were vulnerable to introduced plants and animals.

Alice Springs golf course ponds drained
Wildlife Ranger John Tyne said the turtles probably became stranded when the Alice Springs golf course ponds were drained for maintenance.(ABC News: Mitchell Abram)

“The Ellery Creek Big Hole is one of a handful of permanent waterholes in the Finke River system, it is a very important refuge for fish and aquatic life during drought years and any introduced exotic species is of concern,” said Mr Tyne.

“This species of turtles is probably not the worst thing that could have shown up, but one of things that could have come along with the turtles are various aquatic plants that could be a bit of a higher risk, or even parasites or viruses.”

He said that because of the time of year, it would be a challenge to catch and remove the animals.

Mr Tyne said it wasn’t the first time animals had been wrongly freed into the wild.

Turtles had previously been released into Ellery Creek Big Hole and Simpsons Gap.

“We’ve also had to fish goldfish out of Simpsons Gap — which is a bit of a concern,” Mr Tyne said.

“Certainly any aquatic fish shouldn’t be dumped in the NT. No animal should be dumped in the NT.”

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Green turtle rookery on Raine Island brought back from brink, but scientists’ fight not over yet

Stunning drone footage of tens of thousands of turtles congregating off Cape York Peninsula captured media attention this week. But this bustling rookery once resembled a turtle graveyard.

The little coral cay attracts up to 100,000 nesting females some years, and produces about 90 per cent of the region’s green turtles.

But in the 1990s, scientists noticed the rookery was struggling.

The hatching success rate became unusually low with up to 90 per cent of eggs not producing hatchlings.

And thousands of adult females were dying each season, mainly from heat exhaustion and because they were falling off small cliffs.

About 2,000 adult turtles died during one nesting season, many after falling off steep sections on the island.(Supplied: Queensland Government)

With a population crash looming, a mammoth operation began to save the rookery.

Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) senior researcher Dr Andrew Dunstan joined the recovery effort in 2011.

“The idea was to fence the edge of those cliffs so they couldn’t even get up there.”

The second was to shift large amounts of sand to reshape the island, creating higher and flatter beaches so fewer nests would be flooded during high tides.

An aluminium catamaran rests at anchor off a large sand island on the Great Barrier Reef.
Many nests on Raine Island were being inundated.(Supplied: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority)

“One of the big issues with hatching failure is inundation,” Dr Dunstan said.

“The island has sort of spread outwards, so the beach has got lower.”

The Government began hunting for corporate sponsorship and in 2015 announced a five-year $7.95 million partnership with BHP, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and Wuthathi and Meriam traditional owners.

Recovery work intensifies

A small team visited the remote island several times a year barging in heavy machinery.

They identified “hotspots” for cliff fall deaths and rescued hundreds of stranded turtles each season.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service staff help move a turtle on Raine Island
The recovery team also used heavy machinery to rescue stranded and overturned turtles.(Supplied: Gary Cranitch/Queensland Museum)

“Now we’ve got about 1,750 metres of fencing above that cliff area and that has virtually reduced cliff fall deaths to nothing.” Dr Dunstan said.

The team has so far shifted 30,000 cubic metres of sand to re-profile nearly a third of the island.

Hatchling production has nearly doubled from those areas.

Turtle hatchlings making their way across a beach to the sea
Raine Island is losing less eggs due to flooding but still has problems with hatching success.(Supplied: Queensland Government)

Technological innovation

The work has been accompanied by a sophisticated monitoring and research effort using 3D modelling, satellite technology and drones.

The team this week published research on how they used drones to count turtles more easily, safely and accurately than traditional methods such as surveying from boats.

“Historically what we used to rely on was counting the number of turtles on the beach at night,” co-author Dr Richard Fitzpatrick from the Biopixel Ocean Foundation said.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service staff watch over a turtle at night on Raine Island
The research found counting turtles using drones was significantly more accurate than counting them from land or from boats.(Supplied: Gary Cranitch/Queensland Museum)

“The fact the sea turtles don’t come up every night … it’s not a really accurate count.”

The team painted white stripes on 2,000 turtles then filmed them in the water using a drone.

By working out the ratio of painted versus unpainted turtles they estimated about 64,000 turtles came to nest on the island last December.

Drone photo of hundreds of turtles floating in blue water
Researchers painted a white stripe on 2,000 turtles to help estimate how many were aggregating.(Supplied: Christian Miller)

Population crash still expected

Despite the project’s success, Dr Dunstan warned the green turtle population was likely to crash in the near future.

“There’s been two or three decades of bad hatching success and low hatchling output, and because they take 35 years to reach maturity we actually should see a crash at some stage reasonably soon,” he said.

He said the rookery still faced many threats including lower hatching success during busier nesting seasons as well as climate change impacts.

“[We’re] finding no males in new recruits because the sand is just too hot and there’s a sex determination temperature during incubation,” he said.

Hundreds of turtles on a beach
Incubation temperatures below 29 degrees Celsius will produce male turtles while above 29C will result in female turtles.(Supplied: Christian Miller)

Dr Dunstan said it was critical recovery efforts continued at the rookery.

“It’s not like there are other islands they could just go to. That’s why there’s this big aggregation at Raine — it’s the one great spot,” he said.

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