Look out, turtles about on the Northern Road and Hume Highway

Motorists are being urged to keep a look-out for river-dwelling turtles that are on the move this month.

The Northern Road and Hume Highway are hot spots for turtle sightings and deaths, especially in “Turtle Month”.

A Western Sydney University researcher said November was a dangerous time for turtles because it was their nesting season.

“Most turtles throughout the country are triggered to nest when the spring storms hit,” Associate professor Ricky Spencer said.

“They leave the safety of the water to lay their eggs on dry land and in doing so they often come into contact with urban developments, foxes and cars.

“Most concerning is that the majority of turtles killed on roads are old females looking for nesting sites for their eggs.”

Dr Spencer said expanding urban populations, pest animals and deteriorating water quality were leading freshwater turtles – a once common, widespread species – to become extinct locally.

In a desperate bid to halt their decline, Western Sydney University researchers are calling on the volunteers and citizen scientists to download TurtleSAT and report their turtle sightings.

Dr Spencer is the creator of TurtleSAT – a mobile app and website that encourages citizen scientists and the general community to log their sightings of turtles.

Since the app was launched in 2015, more than 5000 sightings have been recorded – including indications that thousands of turtles are being killed on roads throughout south-eastern Australia.

“We are essentially calling on the power of the people to save Australian turtles,” Dr Spencer said.

“We want people to watch out for turtles and use the TurtleSAT app to record where they see them.

“The European Red Fox destroys more than 95 per cent of turtle nests each year.

“If you see a hole in the ground with small egg shells nearby, it is a turtle nest – record that into TurtleSAT too.” 

Shane Davies and Kane Durant from Turtle Rescues NSW are part of a team that conduct last-minute rescues as developers drain and fill in swamps and wetlands throughout the Sydney basin.

With plans for the airport at Badgerys Creek and further expansion of new suburbs throughout north and south-western Sydney, volunteers from Turtle Rescues NSW will be flat out saving thousands of freshwater turtles over the next decade.

“Because most turtles are not currently classified as threatened or endangered, they are pretty much missed in environment impact statements,” Mr Davies said.

“When developers start dredging wetlands, turtles like Eastern Long-Necked turtles are killed, and when they start pumping the water out, the turtles head onto busy roads, where most get killed.”

Freshwater turtles can live up to 100 years and grow to half a metre in length and are vital for the ecology of our rivers.

"They are the vacuums of our rivers," Dr Spencer said.

"They, like crayfish, are scavengers who break up anything that is dead – carp, for example – and recycle the nutrients."

To get involved, the TurtleSAT app can be downloaded from the app store or sightings can be recorded at TurtleSAT.org.au.

Turtle Rescues NSW require volunteers to rescue turtles throughout south-western Sydney. For more information visit their Facebook page.


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