The leatherback turtle is one of 18 new creatures added to Australia’s threatened species list by the Federal Government.
The leatherback turtle is one of 18 new creatures added to Australia’s threatened species list by the Federal Government. Michael Roache

Change of habits could help save leatherbacks

PLASTIC bags in the ocean are easily mistaken for jellyfish by Australia’s leatherback turtles, which is part of the reason they have made it on to the endangered species list.

Commercial fishing fleets outside Australian waters have been harvesting the turtles for their meat and eggs, while shark nets are another reason for a fall in numbers..

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett elevated the turtle, along with 17 other species, to the endangered species list on Sunday.

Mr Garrett said the Government was reviewing a recovery plan for the turtles.

“Where appropriate, the revised plan would include more stringent measures to reflect the changes to the turtles’ conservation status,” he said.

Australian Seabird Rescue president, Marny Bonner, said they had been rescuing marine turtles since 1996.

“This legislation comes 10 years too late,” she said. “Plastic bags have a huge impact on them, as do drift nets and other discarded fishing gear. We need a very aggressive approach to control plastics getting into the marine environment.

“The difficult thing is the turtle traverses other countries’ ocean borders.”

Richmond Valley Council environmental services director, Ken Exley, said his council has stopped plastic bags being washed into the Evans River, then into the sea, by installing a filter system in the Silver Sands Caravan Park.

“The drain has a ‘trash rack’ which is cleaned by council staff regularly,” he said.

Mr Exley said a natural filtering system behind nearby wetlands also stopped plastic bags washing into the sea.

“If plastic bags do get into the river they are usually blown there by the wind, or are let drift into the sea by fishermen or recreational users of the area,” he said.

NSW Shadow Environment Minister Catherine Cusack, of Lennox Head, said many endangered turtles were killed in shark nets used under the NSW Government’s Shark Meshing Program.

“Leatherback turtles trapped in mesh cannot reach the surface to breathe and they drown,” she said.


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