The goal of my current James Cook University research is to discover the most cost effective method for Flatback turtle conservation in Cape York.

Conservation funds are grossly inadequate for addressing the plight of marine turtles.  I am working with conservation planners, marine turtle researchers, ranger groups and Cape York Sustainable Futures (CYSF), to identify the best set of actions to maximize conservation of Flatback turtle eggs in Cape York, on a limited budget.

The  management actions necessary to prevent a decline in numbers and support recovery of marine turtles is described in recovery plans that aim to maximize the species longterm survival. Although recovery plans often provide a planned and logistical framework to facilitate policy makers in the coordination of their work, the majority of plans do not provide prioritised  field management actions.  If a report does outline actions, there is a lack of transparency about the decision making process for those priorities.

My research develops a novel framework to address this lack.

Firstly, a set of ‘implementable actions’ was identified. These actions were pinpointed because they are designed to mitigate threats to Flatback eggs and have a high likelihood of successful uptake by local community residents. From those listed, the best sets of actions were explored, identifying those combinations of actions providing the highest number of conservation benefits at the least cost.

Analysis remains in progress. Preliminary results will be presented to local ranger groups and stakeholders in the coming months.

The structured approach undertaken for this project can be applied to multiple marine turtle life stages, and act as a guide to the prioritisation of resources for other species in similar contexts.  It can provide a foundation for more effective conservation investment and aid in the prioritisation of rcovery plan actions.

I am extremely thankful for all the support and help from CYSF, and the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council Land & Sea Coordinator

To find out more about my research go to: http://www.coralcoe.org.au/researchers/marianafuentes

PHOTO: Cages are used to help save turtle eggs from goannas.

 PHOTO: Flatback turtles (Natator depressus) - are listed as a vulnerable species under the EPBC Act 1999. Distribution is restricted to tropical waters of northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and western Papua, and nesting takes place in Australia only. On Cape York, the main breeding rookeries are Crab Island, Deliverance and Kerr Islands and the mainland beaches of north-western Cape York.

Turtles have 100 million years of history in the world’s oceans. All marine turtle species are currently suffering threats to their survival. Some of the key threats for the Flatback turtle include predation of eggs by feral pigs and goannas; entanglement in ghost nets; falling prey to boat strike; destruction of nests by vehicles;  in advertant catch by fishers and suffering from the effects of climate change.