Keswick Island residents say they are belated to discover evidence of turtles returning to lay eggs.

Rayna Asbury said she could not wipe the smile off her face when she found turtle tracks at Basil Bay on Boxing Day.

Keswick Island resident and turtle advocate Rayna Asbury took this photograph of turtle tracks at Basil Bay on December 26, 2020. Picture: Contributed
Keswick Island resident and turtle advocate Rayna Asbury took this photograph of turtle tracks at Basil Bay on December 26, 2020. Picture: Contributed

“A year ago, I was devastated when we made the same discovery after the dune had been completely excavated by island management,” the turtle advocate said.

“I knew there was no chance of the eggs surviving the total inundation by the high tide.”

Basil Bay at Keswick Island. Picture: Brian Browne-Paterson
Basil Bay at Keswick Island. Picture: Brian Browne-Paterson

The Keswick Island Progress Association said head lessee China Bloom was responsible for the “environmental vandalism” that was “under the guise of ‘beach grooming’”.

In a statement sent to the Daily Mercury, KIPA members said they were stunned to learn the company had publicly denied levelling the dunes and stated turtles had not nested on the island for the past decade.

“Island residents have also reported tyre tracks in nesting grounds and the removal of a turtle nesting information sign in Connie Bay on the northern side of the island,” the KIPA said.

Flatback turtle hatchlings. Picture: Joely Whiting, Mackay and District Turtle Watch Association.
Flatback turtle hatchlings. Picture: Joely Whiting, Mackay and District Turtle Watch Association.

Mrs Asbury said island management had chained off Coral Passage Dr, the only road into Connie Bay, forcing residents to walk 20 minutes to the rookery where more than 40 nests were recorded in 2019.

In a statement issued earlier this month, China Bloom argued there had not been turtles on the island for a decade.

“The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has determined there have been no turtles residing or nesting on the island for over 10 years,” the statement read.

“Photographs showing turtles were taken 10 years or more ago.

“Furthermore, the beach where they used to nest was not graded by the current developer, but by a previous head lessee over 10 years ago.”

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TURTLE WATCH: Nesting season begins in Mackay

A Department of Environment and Science spokeswoman said officers had visited the island twice since May 2020 to inspect work done on beach areas.

“Officers advised the Keswick Island leaseholder that they must not conduct works without obtaining appropriate approvals,” the spokeswoman said.

She said while the DES had not received data or photographs evidencing turtles nesting at Keswick Island, it was encouraging to hear residents’ reports.

A flatback hatchling. Picture: Mackay and District Turtle Watch Association.
A flatback hatchling. Picture: Mackay and District Turtle Watch Association.

“Turtle nesting season is November to February and turtles will be nesting all along the Queensland coast and on many Great Barrier Reef islands,” the spokeswoman said.

But she said there were no bylaws or restrictions prohibiting registered vehicles driving on the beach and any activities within leased areas of Keswick Island were matters for China Bloom.

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The spokeswoman said the department was working with Mackay Regional Council and Department of Resources to address resident concerns with island management.

“Sub-lessees continue to have access to the national park, esplanade and beach areas of the island,” a DOR spokeswoman said.

View of Basil Bay at Keswick Island. Picture: JewelZee
View of Basil Bay at Keswick Island. Picture: JewelZee

Until early December, neither lease holder China Bloom nor development manager Greaton were responding to the residents’ claims.

On December 7, Polymer Studios delivered a lengthy response to the claims on China Bloom’s behalf – including claims related to turtle nesting.

Neither Polymer or Greaton are now responding further to media requests.

The Mercury was advised to email media@keswickisland.com.au on Tuesday but still no response has been received.

Citizen scientists can send sightings data and information about nesting turtles to the DES Threatened Species Operations team by emailing threatened.species@des.qld.gov.au.

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