January 14, 2019 Peri Strathearn https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=339591613545007 Claudia Santori's babies moved out of home and headed into the big, wide world on Friday – all 100 of them. The baby short-necked turtles were released into the Riverglades wetland by the University of Sydney PhD student, her local supporters and several enthusiastic children. They were raised from eggs Ms Santori harvested from local turtles and incubated at the university, reinforcing the efforts of volunteers to protect more conventional nests around the wetland. The volunteers had monitored turtle activity in the middle of the night, put wire mesh over any nests they found and set up a system of automated lights to deter the foxes who would usually eat up to 95 per cent of the eggs laid in them. But it was the hatchlings' release that captured the attention of the next generation of onlookers, something which may prove critical to the species' long-term success. "Off you go, it's your time to shine," Ms Santori sang as she tipped the baby turtles out of boxes and onto the water's edge, which they strained toward before plopping in and disappearing beneath the surface. "I saw them from the first day they were laid in early November – two months I've taken care of them," she said of the emotion attached to the moment. "It's relatively hands-off ... (but) when the first one peeked out of its shell I'm like 'oh my god, it's alive'." As well as helping to save the species, Ms Santori's research has uncovered plenty of new information about it, including – with the help of 18 tiny radio transmitters – just how far the babies can travel in a few hours. "You see them so small and helpless and you're like 'good luck', then all of a sudden they're 500 metres away, no worries," she said. "We think of them as fragile little animals but they have a remarkable inner energy." She hoped her tracking program, which will continue for several weeks, would help her understand whether it would be better to release the hatchlings in a particular location, all at once or individually. Ken Millsteed, chair of the wetland's management committee, said the dry summer had kept many turtles from nesting, and that there were five times fewer nests compared with 2017-18. More disturbing were the several mature turtles that had been found dead, eaten by foxes or, he theorised, perhaps pecked by crows. He said volunteers had figured out many of the turtles' favourite spots, and would consider building a fox fence to keep at least a few dozen permanently safe. Baiting was an appealing option, he said, but impractical due to the number of people who walked their dogs in the wetland. The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife also hopes to take up some of the slack after Ms Santori finishes her project this year – it has invited students from Cambrai, Milang and two other schools to help with a breeding program next summer. The baby turtles will take about 10 years to reach maturity, and may live for 50 or more.