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Endangered turtles safer through work of Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance

Predation of endangered sea turtles on western Cape York Peninsula has been significantly reduced by a co-ordinated monitoring and conservation program introduced in 2013. 

The Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) brought together land and sea managers from Pormpuraaw, Napranum, Mapoon, Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) and Kowanyama to work for the protection of marine turtles and their nesting sites on the western Cape York coast. 

WCTTAA members and stakeholders held a forum in Cairns in late February to review progress and to identify goals and challenges. 

Queensland’s entire nesting population of the endangered Olive Ridley turtle is found on the western Cape. 

The area is also home to the largest nesting population of the vulnerable Flatback turtle, a species only found in Australia, and a significant nesting population of the vulnerable Hawksbill turtle. 

Feral pigs, wild dogs and goannas are the main turtle egg predators, while human activity around nesting sites can deter laying or damage nests and eggs. 

Indigenous rangers working with WCTTAA have monitored and protected turtle nests along more than 150 kilometres of remote coastline, and removed hundreds of ghost nets from beaches and coastal waters.

And many thousands of feral pigs have been removed from an area of about 850,000 hectares.

WCTTAA has also developed an effective communications program aimed at reducing human impact on turtle nesting. 

Through these activities, the Alliance has achieved a significant reduction in clutch loss – the number of eggs taken by predators from turtle nests – so that hatchling success rates are now within the range needed for a viable population in the future. 

WCTTAA Chair Robbie Morris said this is a significant achievement for the Alliance in a relatively short time. 

“The Alliance has improved the knowledge and effectiveness of rangers doing turtle and pig management on the western Cape,” Mr Morris said. 

“We share values and goals, and we’re also sharing resources and what we learn working on country. It’s a fantastic team effort.” 

All Alliance member groups were represented at the WCTTAA forum, attended by Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles, Federal member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch, key members of the Queensland Government turtle conservation program, and Cape York NRM staff. 

Cape York NRM CEO Bob Frazer attributes the success of the Alliance to the strong and effective links between all its member groups. 

“It’s been successful because of the sharing of information, the mentoring, the communication between the groups,” Mr Frazer said.

“Cape York NRM hosting and supporting the model has been critical, but into the future we imagine WCTTAA will forge ahead as an independent entity.” 

WCTTAA is supported by Cape York NRM, and is funded by the Australian and Queensland Government’s Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program. That funding expires at the end of this year. 

WWF Australia Marine Species Manager Christine Hof said the Alliance co-ordination of projects on the Cape has made donor support and sharing of resources more effective. 

Queensland Department of National Parks Executive Director Clive Cook said WCTTAA has formed a strong relationship with Government agencies. 

“The existence of the Alliance is a very powerful thing from where we sit,” Mr Cook said. 

“The rangers get together and talk. Working through the Alliance is a very powerful conduit for us.” 

At the Forum, the WCTTAA Ranger groups re- committed to working as an Alliance, and to further improving turtle conservation outcomes for western Cape York Peninsula. 

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