Queensland study to find if meeting turtles changes our habits

Turtle on Heron Island.A study nicknamed ‘The Turtle Project’ is looking at whether people’s encounters with turtles change their lifelong environmental habits.

The James Cook University study ‘Reducing environmental damage via social marketing and sustainable tourism’ is investigating changes in people’s behaviour after visiting the Reef HQ Sea Turtle Hospital in Townsville.

JCU Marketing Professor Lynne Eagle said visitors often left with good intentions, but didn’t make the connection with specific habits such as plastic bag use.

“There’s an assumption that people will go away knowing exactly what they need to do … but life has a habit of getting in the way,” said Prof Eagle.

“If we can break that and say ‘yes, you can make a difference’ then that wider movement can make a difference.”

Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium has had 160,000 people visit since opening in August 2008, according to Director Fred Nucifora.

“The big question I want to answer is how many [visitors] went away and did something differently in their lives,” he said.

Turtle season in Queensland lasts from November to March; the nesting season peaks towards Christmas, while hatchings begin in January and continue into March.

Ranger in charge at Mon Repos Turtle Centre near Bundaberg Cathy Gatley said there had already been good numbers of nesting turtles coming ashore.

“Seeing those nesting turtles come ashore and dig their nesting chambers is an ancient ritual,” she said.

“We hope people really make that connection with marine turtles and go away with an understanding of the impacts out there and how we can help them to survive,” she said.

Other Great Barrier Reef hotspots such as Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island Resort have reported nesting turtles as early as October.

Mr Nucifora said only one in one thousand turtles that hatched on the beach would survive the journey to adulthood.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be on the beach, sitting quietly on the sand watching [the turtles] dig and make their journey,” he said.

“I hope people seeing that natural phenomenon take place appreciate it,” he said.

Ms Gatley advised first-timers to Mon Repos and other turtle breeding grounds to be patient and come prepared for a “nighttime adventure.”

“Be prepared to see something special.”

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