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Western Cape Sea Turtle Nesting Season Underway

Western Cape York turtle nesting season, which runs from July to October, is underway, but the turtles' future is not bright.

On the western Cape, the greatest threat to turtle nests is feral pigs which dig up and eat the turtle eggs. Other threats include people, driving on beaches, marine pollution such as plastic bags and climate change which is washing away nesting sites, and changing the gender mix of turtles so there are more females than males.

‘All species of western Cape sea turtle are listed as endangered or vulnerable to extinction,’ said Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) Coordinator Kerri Woodcock.

‘Unless we address the immediate and longer term threats, these turtles will disappear from the western Cape. We have a window of time to get this right before they are gone from the Gulf forever.’

WCTTAA, a collaboration between the Northern Peninsula Area / Apudthama, Mapoon, Napranum and Pormpuraaw Ranger groups is the front line in the fight to save western Cape sea turtles.  

Cars, people and feral pigs are the main threats to turtles during nesting season Mapoon Land and Sea Ranger Manager Lee Ase explained.

‘Feral pigs are a major threat to nesting turtles,’ he said.

‘They eat turtle eggs and unfortunately the general consensus is that we will never eradicate feral pigs from the Cape, the best we can do is control their numbers and put special cages around the nests to protect them from predation.

People can inadvertently crush or confuse nesting turtles, and unfortunately nesting season coincides with peak visitor numbers to Cape York.

‘During the peak nesting season light, noise, and the movement of people and vehicles on our beaches causes problems for adult and baby turtles,’ Lee said.

‘Lights from night time driving or campfires can disorient emerging hatchlings, and vehicles can crush them as they attempt to reach the ocean.

‘Even if eggs withstand the crush, hatchlings may be buried alive, unable to dig their way to the surface because of the compacted sand. Tyre ruts left by vehicles can confuse hatchlings so that it takes them longer to get to the water and increase their chance of being eaten by a predator.

‘Off the beach, marine debris, boat strikes and the impacts of climate change also threaten the survival of our sea turtle populations.’

‘Turtles play a special role in our culture and we need the community, and visitors to the Cape, to help us protect these animals for future generations.’

How you can help protect turtles during nesting season:

  • If you have to take your vehicle on the beach, drive slowly at low tide and stick to the wet sand below the high tide mark whenever possible
  • At night, only use very dim light on the beach – even campfires are confusing for turtles
  • If you see a nesting turtle on the beach turn your lights off and avoid sudden movements which may scare the turtle
  • Keep dogs away from nesting turtles or their eggs
  • Do not interfere with marked turtle nests monitored by Rangers

WCTTAA is supported by Cape York NRM and is funded by the Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program, a joint initiative of the Australian and Queensland Governments.