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