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
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?
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.
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.
DEADLINE EXTENDED UNTIL 31st MAY 2018
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.
Applications close 31st of May 2018
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.
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.
Entries and questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
These Terms and Conditions can be downloaded here
Sea Turtle Foundation are now looking for a Project Assistant to undertake research, prepare information (including written communications and documentation) and provide fundraising, program design and administrative support to the manager to assist in meeting turtle conservation objectives.
Preferably the suitable applicant will be based in Cairns, but there are ways you can help from a distance so location is not an essential criteria.
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.
Ever wondered about some of the benefits of tagging turtles? Flipper tags are a valuable tool for estimating turtle populations, but they can also provide a valuable insight into the lives of individual turtles.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to help out on a research trip to the Howick group of islands in the northern Great Barrier Reef as part of the Queensland Government's on-going Turtle Conservation Project. During our time there we caught, measured and tagged almost 650 green and hawksbill turtles.
One of the turtles caught was a beautiful old green turtle who has been in the Queensland government database for 33 years! The turtle affectionately know as T11246 was first tagged when she nested at Raine Island in 1984. Yes, back when Wham were one of the biggest pop groups around and we were all wearing lacy finger-less gloves, this turtle was laying her eggs at the world's largest green turtle rookery.
Female green turtles usually start breeding somewhere between the ages of 25-50 years of age, so this is one old girl. Not only does this give us some indication of how long turtles are staying around, but it also clearly demonstrates the links between feeding and nesting locations among turtle populations of Queensland. The feeding grounds at Coombe Reef, where she was caught this year, are over 300 kilometers from her nesting beach on Raine Island.
It is very important that anyone who finds a flipper tag reports it to the relevant people. In Queensland, this is the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP)
If you see a, turtle dead or alive, which has a flipper tag please provide this information to the Queensland Government. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection have been leading flipper tagging activities in Queensland for several decades to study the migration and life cycle of marine turtles. You can contribute to this important research!
IF YOU FIND A TAGGED TURTLE...WRITE DOWN...
- The number stamped on the tag
- When, how and where the turtle was caught or seen
- What happened to the turtle
- A GPS point of where you found the turtle (if you have a GPS)
- Your name and contact details (optional)
Don't remove the tag from the turtle unless it has died!
Send this information to: Dr. Col Limpus (email@example.com) Dr. Ian Bell (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 07 3170 5617
If you recover a tag from a dead turtle, please send it with the details above to:
Queensland Turtle Research Department of Environment & Heritage Protection GPO Box 2454 Brisbane QLD 4001
This week we were contacted by two dedicated young turtle lovers in Colorado in the United States. Kenny and Cy decided that they wanted to help the world’s turtles and chose to do this by raising some funds for Sea Turtle Foundation.
With the help of family and friends the boys braved the unusual spring snow to have a lemonade and hot chocolate stand. Through their brilliant efforts, they raised an amazing USD95 (that’s around $125 in Australia). We were very touched and inspired by the efforts of these two school boys who live in the centre of the US, far from the sea.
We will make sure that their efforts don’t go to waste and the funds will be put towards our school and community education efforts. This helps us to continue to spread the message about ways in which everyone can help reduce threats to our beautiful sea turtles. As a small not-for-profit organisation, Sea Turtle Foundation rely on the generous efforts of people all around the world to ensure we can continue to work in our three key areas of Research, Education and Action to protect turtle populations at all stages of their life cycle.
Leatherback turtles are the largest of the world's turtle species and are Australia’s rarest sea turtle with nesting now only observed in remote areas of the Northern Territory. They are a listed as Endangered which means without conservation action this turtle is at risk of greater decline. We need your help to unravel the mysterious life of this fascinating and rare animal before they disappear forever.
There are now only anecdotal reports of leatherback turtles nesting on our shores with one report last year and no others since 2011. Leatherback turtle sightings off the NT coast were reported in 2015 as part of a dugong survey but recent research is otherwise limited. Leatherback turtles used to nest along the Queensland and northern NSW coast but have not been observed since 1996. The trend of leatherback turtle nesting in Australia suggests we may see the last leatherback turtle nest on our shores in the next 10 years.
We don’t currently understand where the nesting NT leatherback turtles come from, go to, or how many there are. They may belong to a western Pacific population or to another in the Western Indian Ocean. Our efforts to save the remaining leatherback turtles requires an understanding of important feeding areas and migration pathways and the threats they encounter between these areas.
There is hope to save these amazing animals but we need help. Funds raised will be used to do weekly aerial surveys along the Cobourg Peninsula, the NT’s only Marine Park - also an area of the highest recorded leatherback nesting in Australia.
The project aims to first detect leatherback turtle nesting along the coast and when found, attach satellite tags to two individuals. If we are able to do this, they would be the first leatherbacks ever tracked with satellite tracking technology in Australia.
Once satellite tags are fitted, the public will be able to track the leatherback turtles online as they migrate away from the Territory coast and return to their feeding areas. The encounter will also allow an opportunity for genetic data to be collected to help in identify which population they belong to.
Sea Turtle Foundation will work in collaboration with researchers from the Northern Territory government to provide another piece in the complex jigsaw of our understanding of leatherback turtles in northern Australia.
We need your help to make this happen!
Head over to our donation page if you would like to contribute to our efforts to better understand and conserve these beautiful creatures. And remember, all donations over $2 are fully tax deductible!
Sea Turtle Foundation will have a stall at this year's ECOfiesta in Cairns. This is a great event celebrating sustainable living in Tropical North Queensland.
Drop by and say hello.
It is always a great day of music, art, food and fashion at the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal. Be inspired by a massive expo of green-tech and sustainable living solutions. Bring the crew along for a jam-packed day of eco-activities and hands-on learning.
If you are interested in turtle conservation and can spare an hour or so, it would be great to have some volunteers to come down and help out on the stall. Contact us if you would like to help Sea Turtle Foundation inform people about the importance of turtles in our Reef ecosystem.
In February, an all-female team hit the beach for 8 nights of turtle monitoring on the small sandy island in the northern Great Barrier Reef known as Milman Island. The team consisted of Margaret, Angelina and Myiesha from the Apudthama Ranger program, Loice from the Torres Strait
Regional Authority (TSRA), Kerri, Coordinator for the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) and myself, Johanna, Program Manager for Sea Turtle Foundation.
For eight beautiful moonlit nights we patrolled the beaches looking for any green or hawksbill turtles that had hauled themselves out of the water to lay their eggs. Armed with a head torch, flipper tags and a measuring tape we walked through the soft sand and waited patiently for our reptilian girls to finish laying their eggs so we could record all of the necessary information as part of the on-going study of the annual nesting turtle population. Waiting was always done with a wary eye pointed toward the water, keeping a look out for the tell-tale red eye-shine of the island’s resident crocodiles.
Our eight nights were the final leg in what had been an intensive five-week monitoring program, which involved the NPARC/Apudthama Rangers, the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, WCTTAA, WWF, TSRA and of course Sea Turtle Foundation. It was a mammoth effort to make it all happen and none of it would have been possible without the amazing logistical organisation by the Apudthama Rangers.
Prior to 2016, the Apudthama Indigenous Rangers were all men. When the new team of women was recruited, they were not able to go on these remote trips with the men, so this was their first chance to take control of turtle monitoring and management activities. During the 8 days, the team learned about nesting turtles, how to monitor nesting activities and accurately record flipper tag information.
During the often wet and steamy days, there was also time to discuss ideas for programs to work
with kids and the broader community to increase local understanding and appreciation of the local turtle populations. It is hoped that this can act as the first step in helping the rangers spread their turtle protection message.
Loice, who has worked with turtles for many years in the Torres Strait was a fabulous addition to the team. She gave us all a wonderful insight into how their turtle program has developed over the years and the ways that they get the whole community involved in discussions about how they can protect and conserve their turtles.
During the eight nights of monitoring, a total of 85 hawksbills and 60 green turtle visits were made to the island. Not all of these resulted in nests, but it was certainly enough to keep us all busy. All of the data we collected were provided to the Queensland Government as part of their efforts to better understand what is happening to hawksbill turtle populations in the western Pacific. Monitoring over the past 20 years suggests a worrying decline in hawksbill numbers and has formed the basis for the Government recently recommending an up-listing the status of the species from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered' in Queensland.
Thanks to the Norman Wettenhall Foundation who made Sea Turtle Foundation’s participation in this work possible.