September is just around the corner and that means the busy annual turtle nesting season is almost upon us at several of our lakes and wetlands, including Bibra and Manning lakes.
For the City’s Sustainability and Climate Change team, some of its most important work culminates at this time as it prepares to recruit, train and lead volunteer Turtle Tracker crews in partnership with the expanding Saving Our Snake-necked Turtles (SOSNT) program.
SOSNT, which now involves nearly 20 local governments in Perth and WA’s southwest, was the result of a three-year pilot project hosted by a partnership anchored the City of Cockburn and Murdoch University starting in the late 2000s.
Part of its success relies on teams of volunteers that help track and protect the vulnerable southwestern snake-necked turtle (Chelodina oblonga) during nesting season when females leave the water to lay their eggs.
Joyce Gadalon lives in North Lake and until three years ago, despite many walks around her neighbour lake, had never seen a snake-necked turtle.
That all changed in 2020 when she saw a tiny turtle heading towards a sandy patch, and stopped to watch it dig a hole and lay her eggs.
It was love at first sight.
“It all made sense to me then. It became really obvious how vulnerable these creatures are, especially during a mass movement event. That can be quite hectic,” Joyce said.
Joyce is now a proud Turtle Tracker volunteer and can proudly report that, even before the onset of the 2023-24 turtle nesting season, she has seen well over 50 of the creatures the Nyungar community call Yaakan or Booyi.
She learned about the citizen science turtle tracking crews through City of Cockburn calls for people to attend information sessions.
“I’d never seen one of these turtles at my lake so I thought I’d go along to an info session to learn more about these elusive creatures and I ended up doing the Turtle Tracker training,” she said
“When I first saw one I was just in disbelief, and very excited.
“It’s a real privilege to see them do what they have been doing for centuries, in our own backyard. It’s really special and actually quite addictive to see them dig a nest and bury their eggs.
“Nesting time is when they are so vulnerable, particularly during mass movement events, going across roads and gathering in large numbers. That is when they are unprotected against cars, foxes, ravens, dogs and cats.
“We want them to lay eggs to hopefully create future generations. That’s why it’s important to have trained Turtle Trackers on hand to help protect them as they nest.”
Joyce said she was grateful for the opportunity to ‘think globally and act locally’, experiencing many benefits that had enriched her life.
Apart from learning about the turtles’ plight and their vulnerability due to urbanisation and predation, she was acutely aware of the value of volunteering and how it could make a real difference.
She had also begun recognising the interconnectedness of our natural environments, discovering Kwenda, tiger snakes and other local native creatures in her own neighbourhood.
Joyce is also doing a lot more walking, enjoying the fresh air of the outdoors, and making new friends with fellow Turtle Trackers who she describes as ‘beautiful human beings’.
“Becoming a volunteer Turtle Tracker has made me a better person. I’ve also met some of the most empathetic and supportive people who really know how to work together to achieve great things. I highly recommend it.”
Learn more about the City’s turtle preservation
activities, Turtle Trackers and SOSNT at our website.
Turtle Tracker volunteer Joyce Gadalon with a southwestern snake-necked turtle at Bibra Lake.