The Apudthama Rangers conducted an intensive five-week hawksbill turtle monitoring program on Milman Island in early 2017, with the support of the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, WWF-Australia, Sea Turtle Foundation, Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA).

Milman Island is a sandy cay in Gudang Sea Country, due east of the tip of Cape York, and is a significant nesting site for hawksbill turtles in both Queensland and the entire Western Pacific.

During the five-week census, rangers and researchers monitored nesting activities of all turtles coming ashore and recorded flipper tag information to assist in population size estimates. A total of 271 hawksbill and 278 green turtle visits were made to the island between mid-January to mid-February 2017, which is understood to be the peak nesting time for the hawksbills in this area.

Data collected will now be analysed by 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 decline in hawksbill numbers and has formed the basis for the Government recently recommending an up-listing of the status of the species from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ in Queensland.

While hawksbill turtles nest and feed in waters of the Great Barrier Reef, they also nest, migrate and feed in other parts of the State and neighbouring countries, such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Key threats to hawksbill turtles across their range include unsustainable and illegal take, ghost net entanglement, terrestrial predation, and the impacts of climate change.

Milman Island is one of three index beaches that the Apudthama rangers monitor annually as part of their turtle conservation program. The Apudthama land and sea ranger program patrols some 250,000 ha of land and includes 300 km of coastline.