Tracking gentle giants of the Northern Territory

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 AT CAIRNS ECOFIESTA 2017

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.

The Apudthama women on the beach for hawksbill turtles

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.

Turtle Adoption Packs

Earlier last year STF was contacted by Tegan, a  Year 9 student at Randwick Girls High School who wanted to be able to support us here at Sea Turtle Foundation to continue our work. As part of a Youth Frontiers program, Tegan raised funds and put in a lot of hard work to compile these lovely 'Turtle Adoption Packs'. 

Tegan has a passion for protecting wildlife and particularly loves turtles. She told us that the reason she wanted to take on this project was because... "I really care about turtles as they are such amazing creatures and I appreciate the work you do for them. I hope the kits save turtles and help care for their well being."

Obviously we can't send you a live turtle, but if you buy a pack you will receive a small stuffed turtle, information about Sea Turtle Foundation, a 'Turtle Trials' DVD and sticker along with a photo and certificate about the individual turtle you are adopting. All of these things come in a turtle-stamped calico tote bag.

We thank Tegan for her hard work, motivation and passion and we encourage you  to purchase and help STF ensure Turtles for Tomorrow.

Head over to our online store now to purchase your turtle adoption pack 

All-female team head to Milman Island

As the Program Manager for Sea Turtle Foundation I am very excited to be heading up to Milman Island this week to give training and support to an all-female team of  Rangers from the NPARC/Apudthama and Torres Strait Regional Authority Indigenous Ranger programs.
There has been much concern recently about what appears to be a serious decline in the population of hawksbill turtles of the western Pacific. Our team will be responsible for the final leg of a 6-week monitoring program that is contributing to our understanding of
population trends of nesting hawksbill and green turtles in the northern Great Barrier Reef.
A mammoth collaboration effort between the Apudthama Rangers, Sea Turtle Foundation, Queensland Government,
WWF and the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance has meant that together we will be able to record all turtle nesting activity on the island throughout the peak nesting season.
Our team will spend 8 nights on the remote northern island and the female rangers will learn all about monitoring marine turtles and their nests.

Sea Turtle Foundation involvement in this project has been made possible with fantastic support provided through the Norman Wettenhall Foundation.

2016/17 marine turtle nesting

Tips and Tricks for Sea Turtle Nesting Season

By Erica Malpass

With summer here, sea turtle nesting season is approaching.  With summer comes more and more people at the beach, but there are some things you need to remember while you’re enjoying your day in the sun.  November- April is nesting season for Australia’s sea turtles, and with that comes some precautions that should be taken on our beaches.  Sea turtles are threatened or endangered, so while you are out on the beach please be cautious and aware of your surroundings.   We must do all we can to protect these amazing creatures. To help ensure the safety of our turtles, we have put together the top tips and tricks for you to know this nesting season.

Tips for the Nesting Season:

 

  • If you notice tracks or a disturbance in the sand, RSPCA’s 1300 ANIMAL hotline (1300 264 625)
  • If you see a turtle, do not disturb her or harass her. Lights and noise can startle nesting females so if you want to take a picture, be sure your flash is turned OFF and remain quiet!
  • Maintain a respectful distance! Large crowds can cause an immense amount of stress on the nesting female
  • Do not tread on or disturb turtle nests, they are listed as endangered or vulnerable species and any type of disturbance could lead to a hefty fine.
  • Throw away your rubbish so as not to attract any unwanted pests. We need to avoid any potential predation of nests that can occur. Also, clearing rubbish will ensure the safety of the hatchling’s health as they make their way to the ocean
  • Do not try to feed turtles, this can cause them more harm
  • If you see any suspicious behaviour, please report it!

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Following this list will help ensure that both nesting females and their hatchlings are safe and that we have a successful nesting season.

    To follow the quick tips and tricks for a successful nesting season, you need to be aware of the most popular nesting beaches in your area.  The Queensland Coast is famous for sea turtle nesting as well as other regions in Australia. Here are just a few of the top beaches around the region that you may experience seeing a nesting sea turtle:

Nesting Beaches:

 

  • Bowen
  • Gladstone
  • Whitsunday Beaches
  • Bundaberg Coast
  • Mon Repos Conservation Regional Park
  • Bowling Green Bay
  • Moreton Bay
  • Lady Musgrave Island
  • Lady Elliot Island
  • Great Barrier Reef Islands
  • Cooktown
  • Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
  • Bare Sand Island, Northern Territory

 

This summer if you have a chance to visit any of these beaches or you live near one, make sure to watch out for turtle nesting! It’s an amazing experience that you will remember for a lifetime. Also, remember that although these are some of the most well-known beaches, turtles will nest anywhere so you never know which beach you will see a turtle nesting on. Just remember to follow our tips!

A successful Beach Cleanup and Engagement Day

Sea Turtle Foundation held a community engagement day and beach clean up at Cape Pallarenda on October 9th.

The day was well attended with over 30 attendees and some scouts even came down to help clean up the beach. Tangaroa Blue was on hand to give a much appreciated hand with sorting the rubbish and collecting the data. In total we collected 31Kg of rubbish which was a great effort considering the beach at Cape Pallarenda is considered to be relatively clean. It just goes to show how much rubbish is on our beaches. Recently it was reported that an estimated 50% of marine turtles within Australian waters will have plastic in their systems. Cleaning our beaches is important but the real difference will only be made when people stop littering and cease the use of one use plastic products. A key item found at the clean up was cigarette butts, with over 200 found, it was really disappointing to find an item that takes 1-5 years to break down so prominent on our beaches. Other key items collected were plastic bottles (which take approximately 450 years to break down) and straws.

After the clean up participants were invited up to the old quarantine station buildings for some light refreshments and some talks regarding turtle conservation and research. These were presented in conjunction with QPWS, Tangaroa Blue and the JCU Turtle Health Research Group.

A key aim for the day was to establish a good network and relationship with our stranding response volunteers. Again we encourage anyone interested in this program and undertaking online stranding training to email info@seaturtlefoundation.org for more information. Stranding numbers are currently relatively low but it is important that Sea Turtle Foundation and QPWS continue to build strong relationships with our volunteers so they can be called upon again when stranding numbers inevitably increase due to weather events. It was good to see some familiar faces as well as some new volunteers. Anyone who would like to volunteer with STF in any capacity whether it be helping out in the office, fundraising or joining the stranding response team please contact us, we would love to hear from you.

 

STF in the Field with JCU and St. Patricks College

After a successful classroom talk with Chris Pacey’s Year 11 Marine Science Class at St. Patrick’s College, STF joined forces with the JCU Turtle Health Research team to arrange a special field experience for the students.

On Wednesday September 14th, the St. Patrick’s Year 11 Marine Science Class, JCU Turtle Health Research Group and STF met at Toolakea beach to do some field work in the tidal pools and contribute to long term data collection and monitoring of the juvenile green turtle population at Toolakea. It was a very successful day and a great example of collaboration between the three groups. The girls seemed to have a great day and STF Project Officer, Alice enjoyed another opportunity to get out in the field and assist with both education and marine turtle research.

STF would like to thank Dr. Ellen Ariel making the day possible and her team of volunteers for assisting with the students and the turtles.

Whilst this field experience was a special and rare opportunity for the St. Pat’s girls, STF is able to do class room talks for students of all ages in both the Cairns and Townsville regions. So please send an email to info@seaturtlefoundation.org if you are a teacher and are interested in having STF come to your classroom to give a talk on marine turtles.

 

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JCU Turtle Health Research “Caraplace” Opening

Sea Turtle Foundation was lucky enough to be invited to the opening of JCU Turtle Health Research Group’s “Caraplace” on August 10th. It was a great day which celebrated a lot of hard work by Dr Ellen Ariel and her team at JCU. The research facility currently houses 42 turtles and facilitates a number of ground breaking studies. Sea Turtle Foundation is proud of the involvement we have with the JCU Turtle Health Research group and the creation of “Caraplace” and we hope to continue this involvement into the future. The research centre is the first known purpose built turtle health research facility in the world and is already allowing for a number of exciting studies to occur. We wish Ellen and her team the best for the future and hope that STF can continue to work closely with the Research Group.

 

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