An excavator driver got a surprise when he went to fill in a ditch near the main runway at Perth Airport last week as he saw something in his bucket moving - a turtle! You may be surprised to hear that a thriving wetland could exist next to the constant din of aircraft coming and going. But it could and it did! No matter how humans modify their environment, nature always carries on - everything is an ecosystem.
I received an urgent call to help out and see if I could trap as many turtles as possible from the ditch so they could proceed with filling, which was necessary for runway modifications. So first thing this morning, with bucket and gumboots in tow, I drove down and met with airport staff at the runway gate. After a brief induction I was escorted onto the runway by a orange-flashing safety vehicle and shown the ditch in question. As the blast of a landing aircraft faded, sounds of Clicking Froglets (Crinia georgiana) filled my eardrums. A female Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) frantically swam across the ditch with her five ducklings as a Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis mollucca) alighted from the bank. I noticed how high the water level was and counted a few native grasses and sedges as well as many weeds, all thriving at the water’s edge. An ecosystem! Bustling.
I ended up spending about five hours wading through the ditch, foraging through the knee-deep water with my hands and sifting waterweed with my fingers for tortoises. The reward was NINE Oblong Turtles (Chelodina oblonga), all having a shell length of less than 20 cm! Like most members of their family, these tortoises probably live for many decades, and even the small ones I found are likely to be quite old and valuable to the population.