More education could reduce marine deaths

EDUCATING vessel operators to be more aware of marine life in the Hastings River could reduce the risk of accidental deaths, experts agree.

The calls follow the discovery of a dead loggerhead turtle in our river on Saturday.

National Parks and Wildlife Port Macquarie ranger Andy Marshall helped conduct an autopsy on the endangered creature and estimated its age to be between 40 and 80 years.

Although significantly decomposed, Mr Marshall said the turtle was probably female and of breeding age.

“If this was the case, it’s a significant loss to the population because it could have had up to 40 years of breeding left,” he said.

The turtle was found floating shell up, which suggested it was hit by some form of propeller when it was alive.

Mr Marshall said if the animal had died beforehand, it would most likely be floating belly up.

Its stomach contained mostly Hastings black mussel, suggesting the animal fed regularly in our waters. 

The species most commonly breeds further north in Queensland although the turtles did lay eggs on a beach at Bonny Hills last year and have been known to nest at South West Rocks.

The “go slow” education campaign in Queensland’s Moreton Bay provides guidelines for boat users to be mindful of marine life.

Mr Marshall suggested a similar campaign could work for our waterways.

Port Macquarie Cruise Adventures owner John Fowler suggested a 10-knot speed limit for areas of the river.

Mr Marshall said this limit could be impractical considering the various uses people have for the river.

He said the number of animals struck by vessels was “very low”.

Port Jet Boat Port Macquarie owner Andrew Burt supported greater education on the issue.

He agreed incidents such as the turtle death were rare.

Mr Burt said sound travels much faster through water, giving marine life a greater amount of warning if a vessel is heading their way.

Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia [ORRCA] spokesman Ronnie Ling “fully supported” implementing additional speed limits on the Hastings River.

Mr Ling also stressed the importance of adhering to exclusion zones around dolphins, which is 50 metres from adults and 150m from calves.

“These are wild animals and people need to respect them,” he said. “The last thing we want is for people or animals to get hurt.”

Mr Ling was supportive of running an educational campaign highlighting the importance of being mindful of marine life.

If you spot marine life in trouble, call ORRCA on its 24-hour hotline on (02)9415 3333.

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