Turtle fatigue south of the 30th parallel

Some Observations and Hypothesis on Minimal Forage Syndrome ( MFS) for Green and Hawksbill Turtles South of the Thirtieth Parallel

Alan Scrymgeour

Recently four turtles (3 green and 1 hawksbill) have arrived on the far south coast of NSW displaying very similar symptoms. All were found in upper estuaries around oyster leases and in very shallow water “sunning “ themselves.

The intercostal space between shell scutes is widened.
The dark connecting material in these widened spaces is spongy grey in colour and flaky.
The animal is flaccid lacking energy.
The body position is limp and lethargic.
The flippers are coated with patches of what appears to be a fungal crust.
The outer layers of scute material is flaking and splitting.
The shell margins appear shrunken to the extent that the joints appear to have had pieces evulsed.
This appears as extra serrations around the shell margins.
Body weight appears low.
Animals appear to be in the 9 to 12 kilograms weight.
One animal had a five mm coating of sand and algae over the shell and front flippers.
One animal had brown enteromorpha growing on the left side of the shell and was floating.

Female Hawksbill turtle photo ABC Female hawksbill photo ABCHawksbill turtle  photo Dave HarastiHawksbill turtle  photo Dave Harasti

First Approach…” The Green” regime
The animals are rehydrated, given antibiotics, placed on a drip and slowly force-fed a suitable “mush” of chopped up codium, ulva and squid. They eventually accept food offered in the water.
They are kept in a shallow warmed pool…. 24 degrees and pool water is changed regularly.
They are be moved to a suitable tank and are retained until the sea water temperature rises in summer.
A Possible Scenario
The animals leave their area of hatching and cross the Pacific during their first 8 to 10 years . On return from the eastern Pacific they forage by following warm water currents south leaving behind their normal forage fields. They enter waters containing forage material that they do not recognise as useful. Their bodies begin to draw down on condition and bone resources. They enter estuaries where the water is shallow and warmer than the open ocean. Here they crop green enteromorpha , ulva and codium in sufficient quantities to just maintain life but not enough to replace the wasting effect. The water temperature by now is sufficiently low (17 deg) to shut down their reptilian body metabolism adding still further to the animals inability to extract necessary minerals and protein from the meagre food gathered. The end result of this group of abiotic and biotic factors can be death.
The Galapagos Evidence
From studies conducted on tortoise species in the Galapagos the evidence is clear that diet plays a major role in shell appearance and condition. Overfed animals develop gross shells while underfed animals show considerable morphing of shell shape and size. This appears one of the evolutionary engines for change in land tortoises.
The Fish Evidence
Since 1987 tropical fish eggs and larval forms of fish have been located in the area from Bermagui to Eden. These intrusions are known to ride the Eastern Australian Current from north of Bundaberg coming in pulses over the late summer months ..Dec. to March…to be hatched on Heron Island and to end up in Eden. This is the result of pulses of warm Eastern Australian Current water following a natural summer pattern and not really unusual. These currents provide an abiotic engine suitable for young turtles to ride.
Earlier this year a slightly smaller green turtle arrived in care in Merimbula .The dorsal shell section and the dorsal surfaces of both the proximal and distal flippers had a thick coating of fine estuary sand and filamentous algae. ( This was referred to earlier. )When removed, this coating weighed one third of the turtles clean weight.
This animal did not sur vive despite immediate care.
We believe the drag of this extra weight was a factor in the animal’s demise.
The Border Issue
From turtle tagging programs conducted on Heron Island and at Mon Repos by Col Limpus it is clear that these marine reptiles travel great distances from their place of birth. This has the potential to transport unwanted diseases into local areas and change the gene pool. Mostly their travels are northward and eastward but now some are venturing south. I would suggest that this southward travel is not a new phenomenon but has been operational for many years. We just have not had the evidence. Returning the animals to 24 degree water gives them an opportunity to resume tropical life and go on to reproduce.
The Anthropomorphic Response
Marine reptiles need all the help we humans can offer. Please pass on your comments, information treatment protocols or any other known experiences that might help carers in their effort to learn how they may help animals in distress. Please add or subtract from these comments. Feel free to scribble over this paper and return it. Only by shared information will our efforts produce the best results.

Mimosa rocks Bioblitz coming November 7 & 8th

Our third Bioblitz is coming up soon in Mimosa Rocks National Park.

Keep an eye on this

Shell survey

Shell survey


Moth surveys

Moth surveys

website for details as they emerge. Look at “Events”

We are putting together our survey lists and looking for volunteers to help make this another great event.

If you are interested in leading a survey, assisting Survey Leaders or volunteering to help organise, host Basecamp or data input, please get in touch with Libby at libbyhepburn@btinternet.com or Tel: 02 6495 0917

Because Patrick is working on two other Bioblitzes at this time, we welcome anyone who would like to intern, help organise and learn about all the facets of bioblitz organisation.

Paul W

2014 Atlas of Life Photography Competition

The great Photo Comp is underway again with the closing date September 30th.

Please send your images via the new entry form on the webpage and we will add them to the Photocomp gallery.

This year we have a Film category as well as Still categories. See the entry form for details and we look forward to receiving all your glorious images.

Hunting Reef Heron by Georgia Poyner

Hunting Reef Heron (overall winner 2013)

Photographer: Georgia Poyner

Venture to the depths with James Cameron

Deep Sea Challenge 3D – Movie Fundraiser Night

Dreamed of going to the bottom of the sea to explore the deep, dark, mysterious depths?  Well, now you can – at least
through the eyes of someone who did!

Film maker James Cameron (director of such films as Titanic, imagesAvatar, Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss), has dreamed of exploring the deepest part of the ocean – the Mariana Trench – nearly 11km’s beneath the ocean’s surface.

With breathtaking footage, this incredible film chronicles Cameron’s dramatic fulfilment of his dream – his solo journey piloting a submersible he designed himself. The risks were astounding. the footage stunning, the adventure incredible. JAMES CAMERON’S DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D is a celebration of science, courage, and extraordinary human aspiration.

Come and see this amazing film on Monday 15th September, 6:30pm, at Merimbula’s Picture Show Man cinemas, as a fundraising event for the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre. Part of the proceeds from tickets sales will be go towards producing and delivering more exciting Education Programs around the local region and beyond. Tickets are on sale at the Discovery Centre in Imlay Street, Eden, or at the Picture Show Man, Merimbula.  For more information please call the Discovery Centre on 02 6496 1699.


Join the Oceans Connected Marine Survey

1901544_728015357263321_1851959195571913798_nThis Saturday (August 23) the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre is holding an Open Day to celebrate National Science Week. As part of the Open Day we will be running our second Oceans Connected marine survey.  The survey is running from 11am – 1pm and we would like to invite you to come along and be citizen scientists for the day. Everyone is welcome to come along and learn about the local rock pools and how we can contribute to real science.

We have Dr Linden Ashcroft from ClimateWatch coming along to run the survey and to answer all your questions. It will be a a wonderful way to explore the local rock pools and discover the diversity of life that lives there.

tara hicks

Where: Meet at the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre then down to Shellys Beach

When: 11am – 1pm

Cost: Free

To book in for the survey visit:

Finding Dragons of the underwater variety

On a cold and blustery day in August five volunteers braved the cold to go on an underwater expedition to find a dragon. Water temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius would not deter these brave souls from their mission. Luck was with them on this day as they were able to not only find a dragon but they found over 8 and managed to capture them on camera.

Weedy sea dragon

This dragon is none other than the Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), a beautiful and iconic fish; yes it is a fish, which is endemic to Australian waters. The Sea Dragon is related to the sea horses and lives amongst the weeds in southern Australia. It has appendages on its body that assists it in camouflage amongst sea weed; this is its only form of protection from predators.

It is a protected species in NSW waters; it is listed in the 1997 IUCN Red List in the Data Deficient category. Due to the categorisation of this species as data deficient scientists are now trying to gather data on as many populations in Australia to develop a deeper understanding of population sizes, longevity and breeding habits.

Professor David Booth from the University of Technology in Sydney is leading the research and has enlisted the help of local dive group the Sapphire Coast Underwater Research Group (SCURG) to collect photographic data and DNA samples from local populations of Weedy sea dragons. David Booth will be presenting at the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre Marine Science Forum in May, 2015.

M0016632The SCURG dive team was able to find, photograph and collect tissue samples of the Twofold Bay Weedy Sea Dragon population that will be sent to David Booth for analysis. The photos are extremely important as they allow researchers to identify individuals within the population. Weedy Sea Dragons have vivid yellow spots on the side of their body in a pattern that is unique to each individual and work like a fingerprint. Scientists are able to use computer software to analyse the photos and recognise individuals. With dive surveys photographing the population over time the scientists will be able to estimate population sizes and longevity of the species in each location.

This dive would not have been possible without the generous contribution from the Merimbula Divers Lodge who has offered ongoing support to local marine research and the SCURG group.

Whilst under the water the SCURG team conducted research for a second project, two birds with one stone.  As part of an ongoing Marine Ecology project run by the Atlas of Life and the Sapphire Coast Marine Society the divers set up data loggers to measure water temperature and thirty metre transect lines to record and monitor the sea weed in the area.

boatThese are both ongoing research programs and SCURG will be doing more dives locally to collect more data. If you are interested in being involved please find us on Facebook or email us education@sapphirecoastdiscovery.com.au.

Next APS Meeting: SAGE Project in Moruya Saturday 6 September


The SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening Eurobodalla) Project is a community driven initiative that is being developed as an education and demonstration site for sustainable agricultural and horticultural practices, in both domestic and commercial settings. One of their successes is the Moruya Growers Market on Tuesday afternoons.

We will meet the President of SAGE, Fraser Bayley, who will tell us about the Project and show us around their demonstration gardens. We hope to have a stimulating and informative discussion about how Australian native plants can be used in this sort of setting, so we will welcome your experience and knowledgeable contributions.

The meeting is on Saturday 6 September at 10.30. Please bring morning tea and lunch (hot water for tea/coffee will be available) and a chair, if possible. The SAGE gardens are at 110 Queen Street, Moruya and there is plenty of parking on the street.

To find out more about SAGE, visit their web site at www.sageproject.com.au and to find out more about this meeting, or the Australian Plant Society, contact the secretary Mog Bremner on 0401 968 899 or at mogbremner@mogajon.com.au


News about Nerites from the Australian Museum

News about Nerites – Australian Museum
There’s a lot more to learn about even the most familiar snails.

Don Colgan © Australian Museum

Don Colgan © Australian Museum

Nerita_blog_Fig_4_ Zebra_snail_medium

Zebra snail on a rock platform
Don Colgan © Australian Museum

Side view of Nerita View full size  Craig Hetherington © Craig Hetherington

Side view of Nerita View full size
Craig Hetherington © Craig Hetherington

Aperture view of Nerita  Craig Hetherington © Craig Hetherington

Aperture view of Nerita
Craig Hetherington © Craig Hetherington


Sea Potato….Heart Urchin

Sea potato :mouse2This strange little creature is actually  a sea urchin                                 Echinocardium cordatum

and is founding sub- tidal regions in temperate seas around the world living buried 8-10 cms deep in the sand.This one was seen at Bithry Inlet.

It has tube feet [like Seastars] & uses these to  pass down the organic debris for food .

The mousy coloured spines trap air which help prevent asphyxiation of the  buried urchin.When they die & the spines are lost it is easy to sea the star shaped pattern on the test [ exoskeleton]….. occasionally the fragile ,white, heart shaped tests can be found washed up on our beaches .

Summary of National Science Week Events

With funding provided by the Australian Government under the Inspiring Australia program, a group of volunteers from various Sapphire Coast organisations (see below) under the banner of the Sapphire Coast Regional Science Hub and led by the Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness, is organising activities in the area for the community.

Events will be conducted from Wednesday August 13 to Saturday August 23, with the official launch at the Bournda Environment Education Centre (BEEC) and the close at the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre (SCMDC). During this period, with input predominantly from expert locals and community members but also some people from outside the area.  The attached table provides a summary of all the activities that are on.

Note:  for most, numbers are limited so bookings are essential.  Bookings online through our Events listings, and then choose ‘Find out more’ which is where the ‘tickets’ are for bookings.

Events summary sheet 20140731 – website