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Fishing gear claims vulnerable turtle on remote Queensland island

Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020

A remote clean up on Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) has exposed the tragic impact of discarded fishing gear on turtles.

 During the second annual beach clean-up of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island), Sea Shepherd Australia volunteers discovered the body of a vulnerable green turtle, killed by a crab pot and beached on the island’s western shores.

Fishing gear is deadly in its nature, but proves catastrophic to animals that many fishermen claim to love and vow to protect. Campaign Leader Grahame Lloyd said that recreational fishing gear and plastic pollution pose a major threat to Mulgumpin’s turtle population.

“Recreational fishing gear accounted for a great deal of what we recovered on the island,” he said. “We found the remains of eight turtles in just under a ten-kilometre stretch of beach, including bones and shells. It makes me wonder how many had died from ingesting plastics or coming into contact with boats or fishing gear.”

Over the last days of August, ten Sea Shepherd volunteers surveyed and cleaned the remote coastline of Moreton Island off the coast of Brisbane, Queensland. Before reaching their first site of the day, the marine debris crew stopped to inspect a washed-up crab pot above the tide-line. Crab pots are fishing apparatuses made up of a sturdy metal frame and wrapped by netting, often bearing one small opening and designed to catch crabs. The gear was heavily-laden with seagrass and moss, and despite showing signs of age, had stayed almost completely intact. 

Volunteers were disturbed to find the lifeless body of a sea turtle completely encased within the trap. Sea Shepherd photographer Lyndal Carmichael recalls the discovery as horrific.

“Fishing gear is a death trap for marine animals. The turtle had entered the open side of the crab pot and had appeared to chew through the opposite side in an attempt to free herself,” she said. “This turtle’s story was clear to see.”

- Campaign Photographer, Lyndal Carmichael

“My stomach dropped when I recognised the familiar shape formed by the netting resting on the top of the turtles shell,” she said. “I was in disbelief. Walking around to see the turtle’s head and front flippers broken through the side of the netting, the reality set in.”

Lyndal said the signs of struggle indicated that the turtle likely dragged the equipment until it died.

Mulgumpin is home to six of the seven turtle species found worldwide, and the Moreton Bay Marine Park has one of the most important feeding areas for loggerhead turtles on the east coast of Australia. However, despite the dire need for protection of these areas, ongoing risks of entanglements and plastic ingestion threaten Queensland’s turtles. The Queensland Department of Environment and Science website says that turtle entanglements in crab pots alone account for 20 recorded deaths per year, and is “an increasing problem in Queensland.”

There are several green and yellow zones around Mulgumpin in the Moreton Bay Marine Park, which prohibits and restricts fishing activities in order to protect and conserve natural fauna. Crab pots and other loose fishing materials know no borders when they are taken by the tides, and pose an indiscriminate threat to all marine life. Despite regulations in place for crab pot ownership, ID tags are often missing from the equipment.

Such a gruesome scene is a sombre reminder of the ongoing threat of pollution in Australian waters. This turtle was one of eight carcasses the crew discovered on the island, and follows on from the discovery of a turtle choked by rope during the 2019 beach clean.

Mulgumpin is a popular holiday destination for local and international tourists, with tourism drawcards relying on wildlife viewing and encounters. Sea Shepherd Australia urges locals and tourists to take responsibility for the plastic footprint and fishing gear. Recreational fishing has heartbreaking and irreversible impacts on protected and native flora and fauna. 

The Sea Shepherd marine debris crew will continue to work in remote places around Australia to bring transparency and relief to beaches impacted by plastic pollution.  

Since 2016, our Marine Debris Campaign has removed over three million pieces of trash from Australian beaches with the help of community volunteers.

You can get involved too! Join a Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign clean-up near you. 

Find out more via our dedicated Marine Debris Campaign Facebook and Instagram pages.

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Sea Shepherd pays respect to the traditional custodians of Quandamooka country past, present and emerging. We work together in partnership with park rangers and the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation during our clean-ups of Mulgumpin.

Article written by Marine Debris Campaign volunteer Kimberley Bernard. 

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