A turtle bone

I found this mysterious bone on a beach near Evans Head recently.

Mystery beach bone













And the flip side …

The flip side

Dr Randy Jennings of the Western New Mexico University (yes, my spies are everywhere!) says:

“It is a turtle. It appears to be one of those with a soft margin like a softshell. It is not a leatherback sea turtle. What you are seeing is the attachment of the rib and its fusion with the overlying dermal bone of the carapace.”

The Queensland Museum said:

The bone you have found is indeed from a turtle. It is difficult to say what type of turtle from this fragment, but it looks to be one of the smaller species.

“This particular bone is from the carapace (the shell on the back of the animal). You can see the rib bone, through the centre. The carapace of the turtle shell has evolved from the rib bone expanding to form a fused shell. Over the top of this bone is a hard skin covering like our finger nails. This gives the nice greeny-brown colouring you see in live turtles.

 “Also I have to let you know that it is illegal to remove turtle remains from the beach as they are protected under the EPA Act.”

So this is very much a case of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos”.

Australia has six species of sea turtles:

  • Flatback turtle (Natator depressus)
  • Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  • Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  • Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
  • Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
  • Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).

They are all listed as endangered or vulnerable. The threats to turtles, according to the Recovery Plan for Turtles in Australia, are:

  • caught as by-catch from fisheries
  • predation of turtle eggs by native and feral animals
  • coastal development
  • deteriorating water quality
  • marine debris
  • loss of habitat
  • unsustainable levels of harvest for human food.

I cringe when I see helium balloons being released for some event – who knows how many end up in the stomachs of turtles and kill them? Balloons and plastic bags floating in water look so much like jellyfish, a turtle’s favourite food.

It’ll be tragic if all we see of them in a few decades is bones like the one I found.

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2 Responses to A turtle bone

  1. Just yesterday I was at an auction where numbered balloons were used. I was astonished when the event was over and my friend deliberately released her balloon (just as I yelled No!). This is person who pays attention, someone I would’ve expected to know about the problems of balloons in the ocean. But somehow–in all the years it’s been talked about–she’d never heard of marine animals ingesting wayward balloons.
    Well, at least there’s one bright spot to the news that there is only so much helium in the world and when it’s gone, it’s gone (http://www.livescience.com/11137-phht-helium-prices-balloon-world-runs.html)–we’ll stop releasing balloons willy-nilly.

    • Joy Window says:

      The local newspaper in their letters column has had a running conversation between a rubber balloon manufacturer (defending the rubber as breaking down within a few months – and what happens until then?) and the president of Australian Seabird Rescue, who of course are at the coal face and finding lots of plastic and balloons in their autopsies of dead sea birds and turtles. Sure, we are using fewer plastic shopping bags, and some towns in northern New South Wales are plastic-bag free, but there’s still a *long* way to go.

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