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On Ninja Turtle watch at Reptile Expo 2024

Updated: Apr 30

✦ Remember Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo from the 1980’s hit cartoon TV show ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?’ Two little turtles with the same names as those famous crimefighters are on their way to Port Macquarie! 🐢

Many folks in the NSW Mid North Coast area will be familiar with the name Reptile Solutions and the husband and wife team behind it, Stuart and Alicia Johnson. The couple have been the momentum behind a drive to raise wildlife conservation awareness in the local area for many years now, winning plaudits for their innovative variety of shows, displays and exhibits while displaying a unique ability to engage thousands of people, especially young school children, and make wildlife conservation education fun and inclusive.

In 2022 these efforts were recognised as they deservedly won the Highly Commended Tourism Award at the Wauchope and Hinterland Business Awards.

Recently Stuart acquired a pair of Critically Endangered Bellinger Snapping River Turtles (Myuchelys georgesi) which he named Donatello and Rafael. He is working on acquiring a second pair, so hopefully they will be joining us soon this year. The turtles have been acquired from a turtle breeder who has successfully bred the species, separate to the Taronga Zoo's breeding programme.

Donatello and Rafael are being cared for and reared at Reptile Solutions HQ and will showcased at the upcoming Reptile Expo 2024, taking place at Panthers Auditorium in Port Macquarie between 10am and 3pm on April 27.

Endangered Species

While turtles of the fresh and seawater variety have inhabited the earth since the Triassic Period, estimated to be over 230 million years ago, they have been ravaged over the past couple of centuries and are coming under an increasing threat from a variety of things that severely threaten their numbers and has seen them placed on the endangered species list. Out in the oceans of the world, turtles are having to contend with man-made pollution, damage to their natural habitat and environment, and discarded fishing nets and equipment, the latter of which, also known as ‘bycatch,’ posing a particularly serious hazard. Over the years they have also been subjected to extensive hunting by humans who poached the creatures for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells. Similarly, climate change is an issue, specifically the impact on sea and sand temperatures and the detrimental effects this can have on the sex of hatchlings. Those who tend to stay on land in freshwater also face a myriad of threats, mainly from humans and their continued expansion into the natural habitat.

In regards to the former, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says, “Nearly all species of sea turtle are now classified as endangered, with three of the seven existing species being critically endangered.”  

This is why the recent work being done by Stuart and his colleagues is not only admirable but crucially important. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” - not something we want to be saying in regards to these majestic sea creatures. Similar local, not-for-profit organisations undertaking conservation work include Turtle Rescues New South Wales and Coffs Coast Wildlife Sanctuary Rescue, which provide educational programmes for visitors and rehabilitation and release programmes for the turtles.

There are still turtles of both the freshwater and seawater variety to be found in most parts of Australia although their numbers are dwindling, with many being named on the endangered species list. Specifically in the local area, there was a special celebration when an incredibly rare loggerhead turtle came ashore last December to lay her eggs, in what was believed to be the first such instance of the season. It led to Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Penny Sharpe declaring, “It’s wonderful to see endangered loggerhead turtles return to NSW beaches to lay their eggs. As an endangered species, every single egg is precious and represents hope for this species.” However, we then had the sad recent news that a heavy storm washed a turtle nest away at Corindi near Coffs Harbour to provide a sobering clarity of balance. 

Two natively unique species found only on the Mid North Coast are the Bellinger River Turtle and the Manning River Turtle. Both are endangered, especially the Bellinger Turtle. It is one of, if not the most, endangered species on the Mid North Coast right now, and one of the most endangered turtle species in Australia. It was estimated that the wild population number was less than 200 prior to the recent successful release of 97 captive bred turtles into the Bellinger River by Taronga Zoo.

Blessing In Disguise

Further afield there have been encouraging signs, even in locations one wouldn’t typically suspect. In the tourist mecca of Phuket, Thailand, and the nearby area of Phang Nga, the number of sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs over recent years has increased considerably. The number of female leatherback turtles choosing the pristine sands on the Andaman Coast to build their nests and lay their eggs has reached into double figures in the past three months alone, which is hugely impressive and encouraging. Such cases have generally all occurred in the north-western area of the island, which is usually a lot quieter than the more popular, vibrant spots further south. However, bucking this trend and delighting officials was the news in January that an olive ridley sea turtle had laid her eggs at Karon Beach in the island’s south for the first time in over a decade. Attentive wildlife officials are on hand to carefully observe and oversee each case, delicately relocating any nests that are in precarious spots and prone to being washed away by the tide, while regular release sessions back into the ocean are being witnessed on the island.

Experts state that COVID-19 is the reason for such increased activity and why the numbers of sea turtle hatchlings have rebounded in the past few years. What was regarded as a genuine bane to most of us was, ironically, a blessing in disguise for much of the natural world and the wildlife that inhabits it. After all, we all need a time out and a chance to regenerate occasionally. 

While this is undoubtedly positive, humanity seems to be reverting to its destruction type now the face masks have been put away and the social distancing scrapped. It is something that creates a precarious balance, likewise a critical emphasis on conservation, something that Stuart from Reptile Solutions is fully aware of. It is why he is incorporating turtle conservation efforts and showcasing his pair of Donatello and Raphael at the upcoming Reptile Expo 2024. Owing to devastating floods, fires, and COVID, it is the first time the event has been held in four years, meaning all the more reason to get yourself and your family along for a fun-packed and informative day!

See you at the Expo! ❋


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