Shifting Sands…

Turtle nesting surveys on Milman Island - led by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science - gave us just a small glimpse of what we might be in for as the climate changes and our weather becomes even more unpredictable.

Melissa Staines watering a research plot as part of her research into methods for cooling turtle nests

This year the annual survey ran for 12 weeks to accommodate research into nest cooling being conducted by Melissa Staines of the University of Queensland. Sea Turtle Foundation provided a small grant to Melissa to purchase sand temperature loggers as part of her project, funded by WWF Australia.

During the twelve weeks, we witnessed just what might become the new reality as global temperatures rise and we get an increased number of severe weather events. Several episodes of extreme wind and rain, including a contribution from Cyclone Trevor passing to the south, meant that there was massive beach erosion and loss of nesting habitat.

Rocks normally covered in sand were exposed after extreme weather events

Rocks that had not been seen for many years were suddenly exposed for all to see. This meant that hatchlings from nests that were laid before the sand loss, faced a very difficult - sometimes impossible - crawl to the sea. Other nests were exposed as sand was removed, killing the baby turtles inside before they could even emerge from their eggs.

Turtle nest exposed after extreme weather

 

 

 

The ghosts nets and other debris uncovered as the beach eroded, demonstrate that this is not the first time that so much sand has been lost from parts of the island. However, with climate change rolling across the planet, we have been told to expect more extreme weather events. The hawksbill population nesting on Milman Island is already endangered and may not be able to stand repeated nesting seasons where so many nests are lost to the weather.

 

Further information regarding Melissa's work and  her results will be released by WWF Australia in the coming months

New partnership – Ocean Protect

Sea Turtle Foundation are proud to announce a new partnership with Ocean Protect, a company dedicated to reducing ocean pollution through the design, installation and maintenance of stormwater treatment assets and infrastructure.
In early 2019, the company commissioned research into Australian attitudes to pollution and waterways and found that there are very high levels of concern within the community about the health and cleanliness of creeks, rivers and the ocean.
Whilst awareness about plastic pollution has increased dramatically in recent years, it is only part of the issue. Getting less attention are the toxins and pollutants including sediments, heavy metals, nitrogen, phosphorous and cigarette butts that flow to the ocean from stormwater runoff. All of these pollutants can pose threats to the health and survival of turtles and other marine species.
Ocean Protect is also investing in education around urban stormwater and its impacts on the environment. Company co-founder, Jeremy Brown said he was shocked to find almost half of all Australians think the leading source of pollution in the city and suburban waterways is illegal discharging and dumping when it’s actually stormwater runoff.
Sea Turtle Foundation were very grateful to receive a donation of $10,000 to support our work and look forward to an on-going relationship and the opportunity to work together to protect our seas.

Green Turtles, Green Island

How to get some quality turtle time on a tight budget in Far North Queensland

Alastair and Amanda Freeman

As you all know, for those of us who love sea turtles, nothing matches the experience of swimming with them in the wild, interacting with them on their terms in their environment. Ironically, living in far north Queensland, prime sea turtle habitat, opportunities to do this can be limited if you don’t own a boat or have a big budget to get yourself offshore. However, there is one place where you are almost guaranteed to see turtles if you are in the water and the means to get there is practically and financially reasonable. That is Green Island.

The lush sea grass beds around the island are a magnet for juvenile and sub-adult green turtles and if you are “locals” (which includes the Atherton Tablelands) the price to get there is relatively cheap. Even if you are not locals, a day-trip is still a very reasonable option on a limited budget.

A lifeguard patrolled beach means swimming is very safe and if you are confident and have the ability, a short 50 to 100m snorkel off the beach will have you away from the crowds and will almost guarantee you at least one and often more turtle experiences. Over twenty years of living in the far north, and with numerous visits to Green Island, we have never failed to see turtles while snorkeling there.

As well as turtles we have also seen white-tipped reef sharks and large stingrays on occasion. The coral is not as spectacular as can be experienced elsewhere on the reef, and there is no doubt that coral bleaching has had an impact over the last few years, but small areas of coral reef in reasonable condition can still be found for those willing to look. So, if you live in or are visiting the Cairns area and have a desire to swim with wild sea turtles but not sure where to go to do this consider a trip to Green Island.

Tracking Hawksbills of the Torres Strait

In mid March, rangers from the Torres Strait Regional Authority worked alongside the Queensland Department of Environment and Science to put 3 satellite tags onto hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) nesting on Aukane Island, in the Central Islands Cluster of the Torres Strait. The project was done in partnership with the Masigalgal, Traditional Owners  who are part of the Kulkalgal Nation.

Tracking these turtles, will provide valuable information about where the turtles nesting in this area spend their time between nesting seasons. Often we only encounter turtles when they are nesting, but to better protect them, it is important to understand where they go to feed during other parts of their life cycle.

Research conducted in the northern Great Barrier Reef over the past two decades indicates that hawksbill turtle populations are in serious decline and in early 2017, the species was declared ‘Endangered’ under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act. 

One of the satellite trackers was provided by Sea Turtle Foundation thanks to a generous donation from The Northern Trust Asset Management. The turtle was named ‘Jessie Ella’* after a local girl from nearby Masig Island. The local community will be able to keep tabs on where the turtle travels here on the Sea Turtle Foundation website. 

You can track the movements of this turtle on the map below. (Hover your mouse over any point to see the time and date that the turtle was in that location.)

A second satellite tracker provided through support from the Northern Trust Asset Management will be put onto an endangered olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) on western Cape York during the dry season nesting period (August).

Thank you

* This name of this turtle was previously listed as ‘Urab’ but this was incorrect