There have been reported sightings and doubters, but now there’s the indisputable evidence.
The Weekend Sun has the pictures of the slippery slider – trachemys scripta elegans – the red-eared terrapin, regarded internationally by conservationists as one of the world’s most invasive species, living in Tauranga’s Carmichael Reserve.
Daniel Partridge, who delivers The Weekend Sun, was drawn to the story headlined ‘When pet becomes pest’.
In that story, local conservationist and author Ann Graeme expressed her outrage at the suggestion that a colony of turtles had settled in Carmichael Reserve. “Gobsmacked,” she said. ”Another pest. Don’t we have enough introduced pests?”
Daniel Partridge was able to confirm her worst fears. He had the proof. He had been walking his grandmother’s dogs in the reserve just before Christmas. “I got a real surprise,” he says. “There was a turtle sunning itself on the bank at the back of the reserve.”
It was the red-eared slider. He didn’t think people would believe him either, so he got the evidence and bagged some photos.
“It was obviously an adult,” says Danial. “It was big - nearly as big as a dinner plate.”
Red-eared sliders are so-named because at the slightest hint of danger, any movement or sound, they will slide off their rocks or logs and back into the water. People buy them when they’re small and cute.
“But they don’t realise they live for 50 years and grow larger than a dinner plate,” says Donna Watchman, biosecurity officer for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. “Once they reach adult size and outgrow both their aquarium and their appeal, owners may think it’s better or easier to release them to the wild.”
The worry is that red-eared sliders are omnivores. They could adversely impact aquatic plants, insects, eels, small fish species and ground nesting birds. There’s also a risk they will spread disease or parasites to native animals and plants.
So could the red-eared slider get a foothold in the reserve, or is it just one rogue operator?
Wally Potts, of Tauranga City Council’s drainage services, says he’s aware of one turtle in Carmichael Reserve and another in the Papamoa waterways but he’s unsure if they can breed in our stormwater ponds.
Donna Watchman says it is believed our climate is too cold for the turtles to reproduce in the wild, and that any turtle found would have either escaped or been released or abandoned.
However, when Ann Graeme visited Carmichael Reserve and the spot where her friend sighted the turtle wandering out of the water and up a bank, they discovered turtle eggs buried in the earth. Eggs may start hatching after about 50 days.
Higher temperatures, like those being experienced in Tauranga, could cause short incubation periods, and the site is being monitored.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council gets two or three reported sightings of turtles every year. “We will inform those responsible for the waterway,” says Donna. “They will attempt to capture the turtle and rehome it, or the turtle will be euthanised.”
The advice to pet owners is if they are no longer able to care for their red-eared slider, do not release it into the wild. Contact a local pet shop or animal rescue facility, as they might be abler to help rehome the reptile.