An iconic species only found in wetlands in and around Perth is in danger of extinction if action isn’t taken to protect it, researchers and conservation groups have said.
The southwestern snake-necked turtle plays an important role at the top of the food chain in aquatic environments around Perth and the South West, but threats fuelled by urban development are threatening its survival.
Murdoch University ecologist Anthony Santoro said his monitoring found the turtle populations are ageing and decreasing.
“A lot of the time that populations are adult dominated, I just don’t catch juveniles. That’s not just hatchlings, it’s turtles that would be possibly up to 10 to 15 years old. I don’t catch them as often as I should,” he said.
“Every year, the females come out onto land to nest, so when they’re travelling to their nest sites are looking for that perfect site, which we’ve often removed because we’ve gotten rid of all the natural bush and just turned it into lawn and roads and houses.
“They end up crossing roads and most of the time they get crushed by a car or introduced species like the fox hunt them down.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go to the hills every time you want to see wildlife, it’s really important to have it in urban areas and to be able to access it, to be able to connect with it to be able to learn about it.”
In a bid to stop population decline, Perth councils, Murdoch University and local conservation groups are working together on a citizen science and engagement program to track turtles and survey predators.
The Saving our Snake-Necked Turtle Project, which is funded by a Lotterywest Grant, requires community members to use the TurtleSAT app to track turtle sightings around Perth wetlands.
Coordinator of the Friends of Lake Claremont conservation group Nick Cook has rallied dozens of community volunteers to participate in turtle tracking and conservation efforts in Perth’s western suburbs.
“We have trained up over 20 people to observe the turtles as they’re leaving the wetland and to follow them to their nesting site,” he said.
“Along the way, they may need to protect the turtle from ravens or other predatory birds.
“They follow the turtles to their nesting location and once the turtle’s finished, we’ve given them a kit, which they lay over the top of the nest and peg down which protects the nest from predation by birds and foxes.”
An absence of juvenile turtles has been recorded in wetlands across Perth, which conservationists believe could lead to population collapse.
Conservationist Kirstie Pupazzoni, the president of Friends of Lake Gwelup in the city’s northern suburbs, said residents had witnessed a steady decline.
“If you speak to people who have lived in this area for 50 years, they’ll tell you that they would see 100 turtles leaving the lake, at once to nest. There’s now 70 in the lake. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not really,” she said.
“We’ve not even got probably 10 years up our sleeve. After that, we’ll just go from having 70 to having zero.”Kirstie Pupazzoni
Ms Pupazzoni said it was up to the community to help by raising awareness and volunteering with community conservation groups to prevent the extinction of a unique species and critical urban wildlife.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go to the hills every time you want to see wildlife, it’s really important to have it in urban areas and to be able to access it, to be able to connect with it to be able to learn about it,” she said.
“That’s why we need to make a bit of a push right now to ensure that it remains, and we still have urban wildlife in the years to come.”