Volunteers have planted more than 700 trees to create a curtain of greenery in a bid to protect Queensland’s largest turtle rookery at Mon Repos.
- A major threat to turtles is artificial light from building development, because hatchlings are attracted to light thinking it’s the ocean
- Nesting females also look for dark beaches, because they are safer for them
- Since 2017, 85,000 trees have been planted along the Woongarra Shire coastline to screen artificial light
Department of Environment and Science turtle rangers said, since the 1970s, nesting numbers of loggerhead turtles have declined by 75 per cent along the state’s coastline.
Ranger-in-charge at Mon Repos, Cathy Gatley, said the glow from artificial lights was a major threat to the endangered species.
“[It’s] not just single direct lights, but the accumulation of lights from coastal development; beaches are brighter,” she said.
“Nesting females are looking for dark beaches where it is safe and more secure for them.
“Then the hatchlings, they always look for the lowest light horizon going back out to the ocean and if there’s artificial glows they can go the wrong way.”
The research program at Mon Repos, near Bundaberg, started in 1968.
Ms Gatley said it was in 2009 that the change in hatchlings’ behaviour was identified.
As it stands, only one in 1,000 loggerhead turtles survived to a breeding age.
“We saw hatchlings from our very northern end of Mon Repos beach, instead of going across the beach to the water [where they’re safe], they started going along the beach to the glow we could see over the coastal town of Bargara,” she said.
“Bargara had a big boost of building happening around that time, so we had a lot more light, and we saw that directly impact on the hatchlings.”
Planting vegetation buffers is one of the ways community volunteer groups and Bundaberg Regional Council have tried to reduce the glow.
To coincide with World Environment Day on June 5, and Queensland Climate Week, environmental charity Greenfleet gathered volunteers to plant 750 native trees at Barolin Nature Reserve, next to Mon Repos.
Chief executive officer Wayne Wescott said, since the not-for-profit organisation began working with Bundaberg Regional Council in 2017, 85,000 trees had been planted along the Woongarra coastline.
“[It’s] a long-term tree planting exercise to restore the ecosystem around this area,” he said.
“One of the impacts of the growing urbanisation of Bundaberg is the lighting and over time these trees will grow up to become a green curtain, which will help to protect the turtles from the impact of the lighting,” Mr Wescott said.
Mr Wescott said protecting the environment in Bargara was also protecting the regional economy.
“Those turtles aren’t just about the environment — 30,000 tourists come to Bundaberg every year to see those turtles,” he said.
“That’s a lot of cafes, hotels, dollars for local residents and it’s really important that we protect that.
“If the turtles — through light glow and other issues — don’t come back here to nest, then over time people won’t come back.”
Bundaberg Regional Council environmental officer Carl Moller said planting the trees also helped to improve biodiversity in the region.
“I think everyone knows that there are issues that we face in the world with climate change; we’ve also got issues with the lack of biodiversity,” he said.
“In the Bundaberg area we have cleared a lot of our native vegetation, so areas like Barolin Nature Reserve are one last little area that we can enjoy.”
He also called on the community to do what it could to reduce the light glow.
“Council has a project looking at how we can reduce the glow in the first place,” Mr Moller said.
“It’s not just about trying to stop it getting to Mon Repos; it’s also about how can we encourage people to do the right thing for the turtles.”
The State Government had also taken steps to reduce the impact that light from building development had on the turtles.
The Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, Cameron Dick, implemented a Temporary Local Planning Instrument that required new developments to be designed to avoid direct artificial light impacting on the beach, ocean and sky.