The National Nest Predation Survey is one of Australia's largest Citizen Science projects, where Land Owners, Community Groups & Management Agencies assess nest predation rates around hundreds of wetlands each year. This allows us to effectively manage introduced foxes, the major threat to Australian freshwater turtles
Introduction and How To
Firstly, create a kit with the following:
Freshwater turtles are present in most wetlands throughout mainland Australia, hence a nest predation survey can be setup anywhere. However, if it is not on your property then you may require relevant permits to conduct the study. We recommend that community groups and management agencies coordinate the surveys where possible. Turtles come out of the water and generally nest in habitats that are open and away from trees. It is best to conduct your nest predation survey within 100m from shore. Some turtles, like Eastern Long-Necks, may walk long distances but most turtles nest relatively close to shore. You can often find dug up nests walking around your wetland. Eggs shells are commonly found on the ground and these areas make ideal areas to conduct your Nest Predation Survey and don't forget to record those dug up nests into TurtleSAT.org.au. Turtles dig a hole that is up to 30cm deep and will deposit 10-30 small eggs per nest. We will use larger chicken eggs in our artificial nests. Eggs will incubate underground for 2-3 months with most species, but some species like the Broad-Shelled Turtle, have eggs that remain underground for up to 12 months before hatching. We recommend that the Nest Predation Survey takes place during Turtle Month in November (See TurtleSAT.org.au) because most turtles nest in Spring, however some species will also nest in March/April.
It is best to have at least 2 people setting up a site. Measure out a 20m x 20m using the tape measures in your kit and at each of the four corners hammer in a small wooden stake. Place a star picket at a corner and place your trail camera (if you are using one) on the star picket facing towards the middle of your plot. Remember to turn on the camera and we recommend that the camera should be set to record three still shots with a 1-minute delay. GPS the location of your site. Please use decimal degrees. Only setup one site in an area. Around most wetlands, you can set up 3-4 sites to monitor.
Ensure you are wearing gloves at this point. Now you need to randomly dig 10 holes and place two eggs in each nest. We recommend using and auger to create a round nest. Trowels can also be used, but don't use a shovel. Dig the hole approximately 10cm wide and 15-20cm deep. Once eggs are placed in the nest, fill the nest with loose soil so that it is flush with the ground. Place a standard marker flag next to each nest.
Before you leave, go to each corner of the site and take a photo. We need to come back in three weeks and relocate the nests, but we will be collecting the marker flags before we go, hence finding nests is very difficult. By taking photos with the colourful marker flags in place, we can print out the photos and use them to find nests in three weeks. We recommend trying to ensure each photo includes most of the markers in the frame and try and include the top of the wooden stake in the photo to help give it a reference point for nest relocation in three weeks. Printing the photo on A3 works the best, but iPads can be effective, allowing you to zoom in when guiding people to find nests. Don't forget to take out the marker flags before you leave the site. Also remember to turn on your camera.
While natural turtle nests are underground for 2-12 months, most predation occurs within the first few weeks of nesting. We recommend returning to your sites in 3 weeks to collect data. This requires two people. The first person will stand at each wooden stake with the relevant photo and guide the 2nd person to each nest. If the nest has been dug up, egg shells and a hole will be present and easy to find. If it has not been dug up, it may require some time and effort to find. Find each nest and record how many nests have been destroyed. Once you are done, collect your wooden stakes and camera and don't forget to write down how many nests have been destroyed.
Now you need to look through the SD card on the camera. We need you to identify every day that a fox was observed on camera. We don't need to record every time that you see a fox on camera, we need to record the number of days that you see a fox on camera. For example, if a fox is observed 6 times in one night, it still gets recorded as a "1", similarly if a fox is observed once over a 24h period it also gets a "1". If no fox is observed over a 24h period, then it is given a "0". Tally the number of "1s" and that will be recorded into the online survey. Don't worry if you don't have a camera, it won't stop you taking part in the National Nest Predation Survey.
You now have all the data required to enter into the online survey page. Please go here (link to come) to enter your data.
We will regularly keep you updated via TurtleSAT.org.au and create National Nest Predation Survey real-time map in due course.
Please download and read the scientific article at the bottom of the page. It is about turtle nest predation and why long term data like this is are very important for managing turtles.
You are required to seek appropriate permission from relevant land-owners or management agencies before conducting the study. They may require you to obtain a relevant permit before work can begin.
You are required to conduct an appropriate risk assessment for the site. You can access an example one here (to come).
Approval is currently being sort through Western Sydney University's Animal Care and Ethics Committee. Once approved the approval number and letter will be posted here.