An image showing two men ‘surfing’ on a protected green turtle on Fraser Island is being investigated by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).
The image was originally shared on an Instagram account, with the caption reading “Surfed a tortoise on zee weekend … gnarly duddddeeeee”.
The man who owns the account has not responded to the ABC’s request for comment.
A QPWS spokesperson said the maximum penalty for interfering with a natural resource such as a green turtle was $19,965.
“There is some evidence to suggest that this turtle was deceased at the time of the photo,” the spokesperson said.
“QPWS are taking this matter seriously and investigating further.”
Gold Coast man Matt Wright re-shared the image after it appeared in his Facebook feed on Monday night.
“It’s had close to 3000 shares, over 1500 likes, or anger likes I guess, and it’s had about 900 comments,” he said.
Mr Wright, who volunteers at animal rescue service Wildcare, said he was upset by what he saw.
“I’m big into my conservation,” he said.
“I’m always rescuing injured and sick wildlife and so it just sort of resonated with me a little bit, especially when we’re always seeing images of people doing silly things with wildlife.”
Hundreds of comments under Mr Wright’s post described the two men’s actions as “idiotic”, “shameful” and “disgusting”.
One comment read: “You should be barred from all national and state parks. Bet your parents are proud of you.”
Others reacted differently.
One person wrote: “I have been to Fraser a few times and it’s not uncommon to see dead turtles washed up.”
Another said: “Regardless if this animal is alive or not … this is clearly disgraceful.”
Turtle nesting season underway
The QPWS investigation comes as marine turtles begin nesting along the east coast.
At Mon Repos north of Fraser Island, 387 individual loggerhead turtles visited the beach to lay and bury their eggs during nesting season last year.
Ranger-in-charge Cathy Gatley said marine turtles began coming ashore in late October and early November, with nesting season lasting until the following March.
“We do know that the turtles come back to the general area they were born to undertake their breeding,” Ms Gatley said.
A major obstacle for marine turtles is the amount of light there is on a beach, with darker areas serving as a more attractive option for nesting.
“We are working hard within the local community now with the Cut the Glow to Help Turtles Go campaign, as we get more development along our coast, to keep the lights down so we still have nice places for turtles,” Ms Gatley said.
While light pollution deters the arrival of nesting turtles, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection points to unsustainable hunting, boat strikes and entanglement in crab pots as more immediate threats.
Last month the QPWS began investigating the circumstances behind the discovery of multiple turtle carcasses near Elliott Heads, east of Bundaberg.
Under Commonwealth law, only traditional owners with native title rights can legally hunt marine turtles, with the maximum penalty for any breach including a $365,000 fine or two years in jail.