We depend on Auckland Council's biosecurity team to provide us with science-based advice so we can protect our environment without undermining our quality of life. Unfortunately, the biosecurity team has failed us with a poorly targeted proposal to ban the sale of almost all lizards and turtles in the Auckland area.
I am not an expert on most of the species they would like to eliminate but their proposed ban on red-eared slider turtles was poorly researched, failed to seek expert advice, did not consult with the breeders or shops that sell the turtles, and did not consider the consequences of such a ban for the children of Auckland. I can only speculate that the quality of the rest of the plan is no better.
Turtles make ideal pets for older children with asthma, a disease that effects 15 per cent of the people in New Zealand. Most of these families cannot have birds, dogs, cats or other mammals as indoor pets because it worsens the disease - but they can have turtles. If the biosecurity team has its way this path will be closed to these families for no good reason.
Two thousand turtles have been sold in New Zealand annually for 70 years and the only problems that have occurred are in the imaginations of the biologists driven to institute this ban. Since the 1960s, misinformation that these turtles are an environmental threat has been dispensed by the people in a position to know better.
It is true that slider turtles can survive and even reproduce in some countries but these turtles have never persisted in New Zealand because it's too cold and dry for their eggs to survive in the summer and it's too warm for them to hibernate successfully in the winter.
If this wasn't the case there would now be hundreds of thousands of turtles living all over Auckland but only a handful of escaped household pets are found each year; so few that it still makes the pages of the Herald when one is discovered.
It is absurd to worry about a handful of turtles that can't reproduce here while thousands of mallard ducks, geese, feral cats and dogs are wreaking havoc around New Zealand while we subsidise their existence.
The document the biosecurity team prepared for the council's examination is full of misinformation and is highly biased. There are disingenuous errors of omission like ignoring the fact the turtles cannot functionally reproduce here and not mentioning that there have been no difficulties in the 70 years they have been in New Zealand.
There are more ominous errors of commission like stating they take over nesting sites of water birds, attack animals larger than themselves, are intelligent and hard to catch, transmit disease to livestock, store sperm for five years, eat native lizards, and can live for 30 years in the wild in New Zealand. In fact, they do none of these things and probably die of starvation and disease within four years of being in the wild without human support.
There are also ridiculous claims like a handful of turtles putting at risk $43-77 million of freshwater resources and that the turtles might become a serious risk in the event of global warming. Biosecurity needs to get real. For these turtles to be able to functionally reproduce, the ground temperatures would have to rise four degrees. If that happened New Zealand's coastline would be under eight meters of water and no one would give a damn about turtles.
Since Biosecurity did not bother to talk with the people whose businesses will be hurt, they are probably unaware of the losses those businesses will incur.
Because Biosecurity will be not be able to prove to a court that a ban is ecologically necessary there will be a compensation issue. That would amount to about $700,000 a year in lost revenues.
A cheaper option would be to spend a couple of thousand dollars fencing in a vegetated, isolated, spring-fed farm pond, then place some slider turtles in it and do a study to satisfy the biosecurity zealots that the turtles cannot survive and reproduce in New Zealand without human support. I've already done the experiment and it did not go well for the turtles.
The council needs to reconsider its decision and reject the biased biosecurity team report until it can satisfy the law by consulting with experts, and the businesses and public that will be effected by a ban. Biosecurity risks losing all credibility unless it can stop blindly pursuing eco-dogma instead of the facts.
• Dr Mark Feldman has researched the reproductive physiology of turtles for over four decades. Although he works mostly in the USA he has done three surveys and written about slider turtles in New Zealand over the past 30 years.