Albany's freshwater turtle hatchlings embark on shell-shocking journey for survival

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ABC Great Southern
By Tom Edwards

Friday September 11, 2020.
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Being the size of a 50c coin does not help the turtle hatchlings' chances of survival.(ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)


From August to October each year, Albany's freshwater turtle hatchlings embark on a dangerous journey that few will survive.

They must travel from the nests where they were born to their freshwater homes, through a gauntlet of predators and motorists.

For many their final destination is Lake Seppings, where signs have been placed along Golf Links Road to encourage drivers to slow down for crossing hatchlings.

"What you'll be trying to see is a black 50 cent coin, in effect, moving very slowly across the road,"
said Atlanta Veld, a citizen scientist who has spent the past 13 years studying Albany's freshwater turtles.

"If you can imagine that, it's going to be pretty hard for motorists to see the hatchlings."

Key points:
  • It is not known how many freshwater hatchlings make it to adulthood, but the survival rate is thought to be low
  • Turtles are an apex predator in the freshwater ecosystem, and are a climate change indicator species
  • A citizen scientist from Albany says more research is needed to better understand freshwater turtles

Hatchling survival rate is unknown
Ms Veld said it was not known how many turtle hatchlings made it to safety.

"Evidence suggests it wouldn't be as many as we would like," she said.

"Out of the 10 to 15 eggs that a turtle will lay in the nest, if all of those turtles hatch, we may only end up with one turtle making it to Lake Seppings."
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Citizen scientist Atlanta Veld has spent the past 13 years studying Albany's freshwater turtles.(ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)


Ms Veld said hatchlings were more likely to be crossing in the afternoon on warm winter days and do so individually rather than in groups.

Still a lot to learn about freshwater turtles
Because freshwater turtles live in urban areas they may seem familiar to us, but not a huge amount is known about them scientifically.

Ms Veld said freshwater turtles had an important role to play as an apex predator.

"Turtles are like the sharks of the freshwater ecosystem,"
she said.

"They help keep in check all the other freshwater species, so that we have healthy ecosystems."

Happy turtles mean happy humans
Ms Veld said they had also been identified as an indicator species for climate change.

"They are heavily connected to the climate and weather patterns in order to survive and be healthy," she said.

"When our weather patterns are out of sync so are our turtles and we don't know the consequences of that yet."
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While freshwater turtles may seem familiar because they live in close proximity to humans in urban areas, but Ms Veld said there's still a lot to learn about the species.(ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)


There are thought to be around 200 freshwater turtles living in Lake Seppings, and smaller numbers scattered throughout other freshwater sources in Albany.

Although motivated by her desire to learn more about the species, Ms Veld admitted part of the appeal was the hatchlings' endearing "cuteness".

"I think the hatchlings are gorgeous," she said.

"The adults not so much if you pick them up, because they'll wee on you."
 

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