New South Wales zookeeper Racheal Mangan was so motivated to help turtles – icons of Australia’s marine environments – she has made the 26 hour round trip from her home town of Newcastle to volunteer for a turtle conservation project in Bundaberg, twice.
Ocean lover Racheal first began helping at the Mon Repos Turtle Research Centre in February 2018 and was captivated by conservation work which included recording measurements of hatchling and adult turtles, counting clutch sizes and guiding hatchlings to the sea.
But her second voluntary stint at the Centre in February earlier this year was a much more confronting experience because of the heatwave on land and in the sea which eventually led to the third mass coral bleaching event in five years on the nearby Great Barrier Reef.
“Many of the hatchling turtles died in their hot sand nests due to heat stress, which was devastating for all the volunteers,” Racheal said.
“Of the ones we were able to help that made it to the sea, most if not all will be female turtles which has huge implications for their populations. Turtles have their sex determined by the temperature of the nest and warm nests produce females.
“The best way to tackle this issue is by doing something about climate change which drives heatwaves on land and in the sea and which led to the terrible mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef – a key habitat for these turtles.”
Racheal’s work at the Centre contributed to their ongoing research into the turtle species that frequent the nearby beaches – loggerheads, flatbacks and green turtles.
Many of their discoveries have driven changes in the local area, including changes to town lighting so hatchling turtles do not divert towards ‘the glow’ instead of the horizon when they first emerge from their nests. Certain beach closures also ensure the creatures are not disturbed when nesting or emerging.
“I love connecting people with nature. I have a passion for wildlife that drives me,” said Racheal of her motivation to volunteer.
“I remember as a little kid seeing a turtle and finding it fascinating. They got into my soul.”
Great Barrier Reef campaigner David Cazzulino from the Australian Marine Conservation Society praised the dedication of Racheal and volunteers like her on World Turtle Day (Saturday 23 May).
“This is vital conservation and research work for the future of species which make up the rich diversity of our beautiful Reef,” David said.
“It is heartening to hear their hard work helped to save some turtle hatchlings during the February heatwave and as we recover from COVID-19, now is the opportunity to rebuild with clean jobs in renewable energy to give our Reef and turtles the best chance for the future.”