First thorough review of winter turtle eggs reveals majority are viable
  • Wednesday 14 August 2019

Gentle yet ecstatic exclamations of excitement were shared at the Maroochydore Depot yesterday, August 13, when Leigh Warneminde placed the first turtle egg of an unexpected winter clutch into an improvised egg candling box, and the team discovered it was viable.

Over the past three weeks, Sunshine Coast Council has looked after a clutch of 93 eggs, believed to belong to an endangered Loggerhead female turtle.

The eggs have been incubated in a safe space, with specific temperature and humidity control, in case they were viable.

Yesterday afternoon, President of Coolum & North Shore Coast Care (CANSCC), Leigh Warneminde joined Sunshine Coast Council TurtleCare Conservation Officers Kate Hofmeister and Dr Simone Bosshard, and together they analysed each egg, discovering that 84 are, in fact, viable.

“It is so exciting that not only have we had a winter nest, which is pretty much unheard of, now the icing on the cake is that these eggs are actually growing beautifully as little embryos,” Ms Warneminde said.

“The team effort that involved council officers and volunteers, shows what fantastic things can happen when we all work together.

“It’s just bizarre, because as we know, Loggerhead turtles don’t normally mate this time of year, let alone lay eggs on the beach.

“The fact that these eggs are fertilised just deepens the mystery and makes it even more exciting!”

This out-of-season turtle nest has puzzled turtle experts across the state, as it is the first recorded during a winter season along the east coast.

Council officers sought advice from the Queensland Government’s top turtle researcher, Dr Col Limpus, as soon as the clutch was discovered on July 22.

“Dr Limpus recommended incubation to see if the eggs are viable, as we knew that if the eggs remained in the sand, they would all perish due to the cold temperatures,” Dr Bosshard said.

“So we’ve given the eggs time to develop and now we’ve done a full review of the eggs, looking for any potential embryonic tissue growing under the shell.

“We discovered 84 eggs with clear evidence of blood capillaries inside the eggshell, indicating they are viable at this time.

“By using a candling technique, essentially placing the egg in a dark box with a torch underneath it, we can see roughly what’s inside the egg’s shell.

“It was beautiful to see the established capillaries inside the shells of so many eggs, clearly showing development inside.”

Council TurtleCare Conservation Officer Kate Hofmeister shared the excitement of the team.

“We’ve been monitoring the eggs daily, ensuring they’re kept at an ideal temperature and humidity in the hopes that they become strong, female hatchlings,” Ms Hofmeister said.

“Within the first week of incubating the eggs, we could see that there were definitely some that were not viable, as they were a more opaque colour and somewhat deflated, but we were cautiously optimistic for a good result.

“Now, our next steps are to keep the viable eggs safe in the incubator for the remainder of the incubation period.

“At that point, we’ll do twice daily checks in the hopes of the emergence of hatchlings.”

As soon as there is an emergence, council officers and CANSCC volunteers will measure, weigh, photograph and count the scales of several hatchlings.

The baby turtles will then be released back into the ocean, within hours of emerging. 

In the meantime, CANSCC and TurtleCare volunteers continue to keep an eye on the shores for the return of this special female Loggerhead who may lay another clutch of eggs.

If anyone sees turtle tracks on the beach, please do not disturb the area and call the TurtleCare hotline on 0437 559 067.

Council is proud to work with the community, both dedicated volunteers and organisations, through the TurtleCare program to help look after endangered Loggerhead turtles across the coast.

For further information about council’s TurtleCare program and turtle monitoring, please visit council’s website, www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au, and search “turtle care.”