Wildlife authorities in Queensland are sounding the alarm about a growing problem that is causing the deaths of the state's fledgling turtle populations.
Posting an innocuous-looking photo of a sandy beach on Facebook, Queensland National Parks asked the public: "Can you guess what’s wrong with this picture?"
The image shows tracks criss-crossing the sand.
The problem, however, is the tracks belong to turtle hatchlings and they're heading in the wrong direction – something that ultimately proves fatal.
"These tracks were made by turtle hatchlings trying to make their way to the sea. At night, hatchlings find their way from their nest to the sea by moving towards the lightest horizon they see – straight down the beach to the water," Queensland National Parks explained.
"On nesting beaches near towns, resorts or camping areas, artificial lights can affect a hatchling’s or turtle’s ability to see the natural horizon, causing them to become disoriented and travel in the wrong direction.
"Often this means they become trapped in vegetation, exhaust themselves or overheat, with little chance of survival."
In many cases, they become prey for birds and other animals as they fail to make it to the safety of the ocean.
On Facebook, some users lamented having seen the issue firsthand.
"We have just experienced this at Bargara Beach [near Bundaberg] on a recent holiday," one person commented.
"The nest hatched and some of them headed to the caravan park across the road. Cabins and toilet block lights attracted them. Some were run over by cars, some caught in the vegetation and were completely exhausted."
Large number of stranded hatchlings found this month
On Wednesday, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said a large number of stranded hatchlings had been found on the state's beaches in the month of February, and urged residents in the Capricorn Coast region to turn out their lights at night if they are residing near the shoreline.
Some baby turtles are seemingly at risk even once they have entered the water with researchers finding that they have been lured back to the shore by strong, coastal light, said senior conservation officer Dr Ian Bell.
“Two of the turtles were recaptures from a monitoring program at Peak Island, indicating that the hatchlings are not all dispersing from the local area as expected.
“Monitoring of newly emerged hatchlings at Peak Island has shown that instead of heading directly seaward across the beach, the hatchlings were heading diagonally across the beach towards the Yeppoon coast," he said.
“There is a distinct possibility that the post-hatchling turtles leaving Peak Island are being attracted to the inshore coastal waters of Keppel Bay by the sky glow of the Yeppoon coast.”
Researchers and wildlife authorities have long worried about the disruptive force of artificial light near the shoreline for these turtle populations.
The state government's "Cut the Glow" campaign calls on local residents and businesses to reduce their light pollution by turning off unnecessary lights, closing curtains and facing lights away from the shoreline during breeding season from October 15 to April 30.
If people find live turtle hatchlings on Capricorn Coast beaches please call the DES Wildlife hotline on 1300 130 372.
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