Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance 2018 in review
Story by Kerri Woodcock | Photos by Kerri Woodcock and Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Rangers
Securing funding is paramount to ensure the continuation of Rangers’ vital work past 2020
The Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) has had another busy year delivering outcomes for coastal ecosystems on western Cape York. The partnership of five Ranger groups from Northern Peninsula Area, Mapoon, Napranum, Pormpuraaw and Kowanyama has been working together for the protection of marine turtles since 2013.
Western Cape York provides internationally significant nesting habitat for the vulnerable flatback (Natator depressus), as well as the endangered olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles.
Nest predation, particularly by feral pigs, remains the greatest immediate threat to nesting turtle populations on the beaches of the western Cape. To this end, WCTTAA groups deliver a full program of predator management, including both aerial and ground culling of feral pigs. In 2018 more than 3,000 feral pigs were removed from western Cape coastal ecosystems by aerial culling alone. Rangers also protect individual nests of the endangered olive turtles by covering them with aluminium cages for the duration of nest incubation. These cages play a critical role in reducing predation on marine turtle nests, particularly during those times when Rangers cannot be physically present on the beach.
Seven beaches, covering 150 kilometres of the western Cape York coast, were patrolled by WCTTAA Rangers during the peak turtle-nesting season this year.
During patrols, Rangers monitor the numbers of turtle nests, species, predation rates as well as the success of the nests for hatchlings. Of the 3,248 nests recorded by WCTTAA during 2018, approximately 90% of these nests survived to produce hatchlings. This represents a significant improvement to the average 10% nest survival rate reported during the 1990s and early 2000s. This tangible increase in the nest survival rate serves to increase the resilience of local marine turtle populations as they face the threats of the impacts of climate change now and into the future.
Delivering a threatened species program in such remote and geographically vast locations is not without its challenges. It is labour intensive and expensive to deliver this work on beaches that are often difficult to access and tough on vehicles and equipment. Rangers are required to work long hours in often uncomfortable conditions for extended periods of the year, for benefits that won’t be known until the turtles return to these beaches to nest in more than a decade’s time.
The work of the WCTTAA Rangers on western Cape beaches is undoubtedly also delivering a broader suite of environmental benefits; including improvements to terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems resulting from the removal of substantial numbers of feral pigs. The removal of ghost nets and marine debris during beach patrols is also of benefit to other marine life and shorebirds. With funding from the Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program ending in June 2020, a key focus for WCTTAA during the year ahead is to source and secure alternative funding to ensure that Rangers can continue to deliver the significant outcomes achieved to date.
The Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance is supported by the Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program, a joint initiative of the Australian and Queensland Governments.