It’s that time of year again. The Milman Island turtle nesting season is well underway and teams of researchers and volunteers have been on the island since the 4th of January and I will head off to join them this week.
The Queensland Government runs an annual census of nesting hawksbill and green turtles from the 15th of January to the 15th of February each year. However, this year the survey period has been extended over 11 weeks from January to March and incorporates research being undertaken by Honours student, Melissa Staines.
Recent research has shown that warming global temperatures are turning turtle populations in the northern Great Barrier Reef almost entirely female. Melissa is looking at ways to cool nests using natural shading materials and watering to try to improve the number of male turtle hatchlings and improve the overall health of hatchlings.
Sea Turtle Foundation provided a small grant to Melissa to buy digital temperature loggers for her project and look forward to seeing her results.
I will be on the island for two weeks as part of the Queensland Government’s on-going monitoring program and to give Melissa and hand with her research. By all accounts, the numbers of green turtles nesting on Milman, and the northern GBR more generally, are very low this season so it will be interesting to see how the hawksbills are faring.
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer responder to help with stranded turtles in North Queensland?
We need more people to assist with the rescue and transport of sick and injured turtles, collection of data (species, measurements, location, condition, etc) and disposal of dead turtles.
Sea Turtle Foundation, Queensland Parks And Wildlife Service and Reef HQ are organising a free one-day training workshop at Reef HQ in Townsville for people who would like to go on our register of potential responders.
Sea Turtle Foundation co-ordinate the response to reports of stranded turtles between Ingham and Bowen and need trained people throughout this area.
Note: You will need to complete online training before you can participate in this training, so register early.
Places are limited, so get in early
Download an information sheet regarding criteria and the process for registering here
On October 25th, Sea Turtle Foundation will be hosting a screening of the spectacular new 3D turtle movie, Turtle Odyssey, narrated by Russel Crowe. Turtle Odyssey explores the unique lifecycle of an Australian green sea turtle named Bunji and her incredible journey across the open ocean. The film follows Bunji the green sea turtle from a hatchling into adulthood as she swims thousands of miles, meets incredible creatures and has some really wild encounters.
This is definitely the best way to see our beautiful underwater world without getting wet.
The film had it’s official Australian preview at the Australian Marine Turtle Symposium in Bundaberg on September 7th but Cairns will host the first public screening of Turtle Odyssey produced by Definition Films.
As official Australian partners of the film makers, Sea Turtle Foundation are running the event as a fundraiser and to spread some more of that turtle love.
In early 2018 we were contacted by a fabulous 10 year old girl from New South Wales, named Jocelyn. She loves turtles and wanted to do something to help. Since then, she has become a true champion for turtles, promoting awareness about the importance of their protection at her school and supporting Sea Turtle Foundation.
In the past few weeks, Jocelyn has been busy baking and selling cookies and turtle cupcakes. So far she has managed to raise over $160 for Sea Turtle Foundation. An amazing effort and very inspiring to see her take on the turtle cause with such enthusiasm.
To mark World Sea Turtle Day on June 16th Sea Turtle Foundation held a community event in Cairns, bringing together the community, marine conservation organisations and government agencies for an action packed day of information, activities and music. The Cairns weather was very kind to us, turning on a beautiful tropical dry season day to help us celebrate.
It was great to see so many of the Cairns community come down to learn more about how they can get involved in protecting turtles and their marine environment.
Thanks to Joel from Videoshift for creating this video for us and thanks to Ronnah King from R.G King Photography for the lovely photos of the day.
Researchers have been monitoring nesting turtle populations on Milman Islet for over 25 years. It is a small sandy cay within the Denham groups of Islands in the northern Great Barrier Reef and despite being what could arguably be one of the most protected marine zones on the planet, the numbers of turtles nesting continues to go down.
In February this year, I was once again lucky enough to be able to spend a couple of weeks on Milman as part of the Queensland Government’s long-term monitoring program. This islet is the indicator site used to track trends in hawksbill turtle numbers for the western Pacific.
Over the month-long program, more than 200 hawksbill and 150 green turtles nests were laid. While this might sound like a lot for a beach that is less than 2km long, it is well short of the numbers being seen when the program began. There are serious concerns for the hawksbill turtle population, and data collected over many years contributed to the Government’s decision to change the official status of the species last year from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act.
So why are numbers going down?
Location of Milman Islet, northern Great Barrier Reef
Hawksbill turtle nesting on Milman Islet
We don’t really know the answer to this question, but there are a few clues and things we observed during our time on the island that certainly gave us some reasons to be concerned.
Where are the international travelers?
Historically, hawksbill turtles that nest on Milman were known to feed and mate in the waters of Papua New Guinea to the north, in the western Pacific islands to the east to, as well as in Australia. Last nesting season, WWF-Australia worked with the Apudthama Indigenous Rangers and Dr. Ian Bell from the Department of Environment and Science to put satellite trackers on 10 hawksbill turtles. Every single one of these turtles stayed within Australian waters, including two individual turtles that are still transmitting signals from within the Great Barrier Reef more than a year after they were tagged. Tracks of where these turtles have traveled can be seen on seaturtle.org
Hawksbill turtle hunting is not illegal in Papua New Guinea, and tortoiseshell products made from hawksbill shells can be bought in many locations throughout much of the country. It is unclear how many turtles are hunted there, or whether the majority of products come from turtles caught as by-catch during other fishing activities. Is it possible that the turtles that used to feed in PNG and then come to Australia to nest are all gone?
Plastic, oh so much plastic. While it is unclear how the presence of so much plastic in the environment is directly affecting turtle populations, it is quite staggering to behold the amount of plastic in the area. Milman is very remote, far from any major centres of human population, so clearly the rubbish is not being produce locally. However, every beach on Milman and surrounding islets were covered in hard plastics and rubber. There were thongs (that’s flip flops for our non-Australian friends), bottles, cigarette lighters, fishing buoys and toothbrushes as far as the eye could see. Frequently when we were waiting for a turtle to nest we would see and hear plastic waste being moved around and slapped by the nesting girls.
Small pieces of broken plastic could be seen floating in great slicks between the clashing currents and every high tide left behind a colourful smattering of plastic among the driftwood and sea shells. When turtle hatchlings first leave the nest, those that make it to the water will spend time drifting in these floating rafts of debris, eating algae. With so many small pieces of plastic floating among these algae these young creatures are also believed to be eating a lot of plastic.
Studies in recent years estimate that at least 50% of turtles ingest some amount of plastic and this can lead to blockage of the intestines or piercing of the intestinal wall. Turtles can also die from toxic chemicals that make up the plastics or that have accumulated during the plastics journey across the seas. Turtles can also get sick or die from malnutrition as they feel full after eating plastic but don’t get any nutrition from this literal junk food.
Plastic among the debris along the high-tide line
Rubber from thong production
Hawksbill turtle pushing aside rubbish to lay her nest
Dead coral covered in algae, Denham Island group, northern Great Barrier Reef
If there are any climate change denialists left in the world, they really should take a trip to the Denham groups of islands. During our time on the beautiful tropical islet, we took the opportunity to go snorkelling in the surrounding reefs. What we saw shocked us all. Consecutive years of coral bleaching due to high sea temperatures have led to the death of almost all of the coral around Milman Islet. As many would know, coral can often survive bleaching if favourable conditions return in time. The coral may regain its symbiotic algae and recover. However, this has not happened here. The coral on the reefs was dead and covered in brown algae. This means that there is not even a suitable base for new coral larvae from the few survivors to settle and regrow. It is unclear how long it would take for a reef to recover from this kind of blow, but it may not return to its old condition within our lifetimes.
All of this is likely to lead to some pretty big changes in important turtle habitat and feeding grounds. This is in addition to other serious climate change impacts affecting turtles, such as the effects on sex ratios of hatchlings and loss of nesting beaches due to increased severe weather events and sea level rises. However, a discussion of these impacts will have to wait for another day…
So, no, we cannot really identify one single reason why the western specific hawksbill turtles have been in a steady decline for the past quarter of a century. It is most likely that there many factors in play, and we need to change something if we want these gorgeous creatures to survive.
Are you enrolled at an Australian University to undertake a research project that has direct relevance to the conservation of sea turtles?
You may be eligible to submit an application for a newly established Sea Turtle Foundation Research Grant.
About the grant
Sea Turtle Foundation is dedicated to supporting conservation efforts to ensure that there are “Turtles for Tomorrow”.
Our organisation focuses on three key areas; Research, Education and Action. By supporting practical research projects, we hope to support the creation of a catalyst for change, greater understanding and increased awareness where it is needed……in sea turtle conservation.
We are proud to announce that we are offering two $2,000 grants for eligible Honours or Postgraduate students to assist in the completion of their research projects.
This research grant is designed to provide project-based support to a current student undertaking a research project that makes a clear contribution to sea turtle conservation and management.
Who Can Apply?
The Sea Turtle Foundation Research Grant is open to domestic and international students enrolled in an Honours or Postgraduate research degree in biological or environmental science or similar fields at an Australian university.
How to apply
Before applying for the Sea Turtle Foundation Research Grant, you should read the additional information including eligibility criteria in the Research Grant Application Pack provided.
Applications must be submitted through the link provided in this website.
Simply click on the ‘Apply’ link, fill out the Application form, and upload the required documents.
To be considered, applications MUST be submitted by the due date.
Applications must be submitted in English.
Proof of enrolment in an Australian University must be provided.
Due to popular demand, the deadline for our t-shirt design competition has been extended until Friday the 15th of December.
Get your designs in to have your image featured on our 2018 range of t-shirts.
People often ask when we will be getting new t-shirts, but we need your help!
We are calling on all turtle-loving designers to participate in our T-Shirt Design Contest
The winner’s design will be marketed through the Sea Turtle Foundation merchandise website (www.seaturtlefoundation.org/store/) and all profits will contribute to turtle conservation projects.
Get your creative juices flowing and start designing.
The brief is simple, anything that expresses your love of turtles
Must include an image of a turtle and may incorporate our tag line ‘Turtles for Tomorrow’ (though not compulsory)
Design suitable to be printed on coloured/dark background
Will be screen-printed on the front or back of a cotton T-shirt
Does not contain offensive images or words or copyrighted materials
Must be the original artwork of the entrant
The Sea Turtle Foundation logo can be provided upon request if you would like to incorporate this into your design
Please save images at 300dpi at the intended print size.
The following files: .pdf .tif .eps .psd .ai .jpg (hi res) are accepted,
Microsoft Office Documents, publisher or .gif files are not accepted.
Competition closes at 5.00pm AEST on Friday the 15th of December. Finalist designs will be selected by Sea Turtle Foundation staff and directors. These designs will then be displayed on the Sea Turtle Foundation website and the top design will be selected by a public vote printed and in time for our Christmas promotion in December.
Prizes 1st place will receive $100 (AUD) and a t-shirt with their winning design printed on it.
The winner will also be acknowledged in all promotional materials on-line and wherever our t-shirts are sold.
Terms and Conditions The winning design and finalist entries will become the property of the Sea Turtle Foundation. Finalist entries may also be used for other promotional materials such as reusable shopping bags, drink coolers etc. upon negotiation with the artist. Sea Turtle Foundation reserves the right to reject any entry it finds to be offensive, abusive, does not represent the views or values of the Sea Turtle Foundation or does not meet the design standard or specifications required.
Sea Turtle Foundation’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding the winning and/or losing entries.
Sea Turtle Foundation are proud to have been able to support the production of this short documentary that showcases Indigenous people from the Northern Territory talking about the cultural significance of turtles and the importance of protecting turtle populations for future generations.