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Human impacts a growing threat to Western Cape York endangered turtles

They are in constant danger from feral animals, but the impact of humans is becoming a growing concern for threatened turtle species as they nest in Western Cape York, an Indigenous Ranger forum heard yesterday in Cairns.    

“We counted 40 extra Flat Back turtle nests destroyed, with 39 of them run over by vehicles on the beach,” Cameron Jawai, Nanum Wungthim Ranger Coordinator at Napranum said. “Our turtles had a tough year.”

The Rangers have approached the council to close the beach and will use data collected this year to make the case for closing a section of the beach next season.

Cameron was one of 26 attendees at yesterday’s meeting convened by Cape York Natural Resource Management on behalf of the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA).

It is the first time in four years that representatives from all Ranger Groups were able to attend the annual WCTTAA meeting in person.

They provided data on nesting numbers, predation rates, protection methods as well as sharing stories on their successes and trials faced during the season’s work.

Nanum Wungthim Rangers work the coast from North West of Weipa and monitor 20km of beach which is the known “hotspot” area for nesting between June and September. They recorded 418 nests of flat back turtles and six nests for the endangered Olive Ridley turtle. Ground controls include protecting the nests with cages, feral animal trapping and thermal imagery conducted along the beach at night to check for predators.

Despite the tough season the program had a 92% survival rate – not including the nests destroyed by vehicles. 

Cameron said the Rangers were targeting local schools to give kids information on turtle nesting.

“We get kids to understand and they pass it on to their parents to take more care when camping. Feedback from the school has been really positive.”

But a larger community awareness campaign was needed for tourists and locals alike.

This issue of controlling feral pigs was high on the agenda also, and is considered one of the most serious threats to the turtle nesting season on Western Cape York. 

Mapoon Rangers, Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Management Rangers, NPARC Apudthama Rangers Kowanyama Rangers all agreed keeping up with pest control and culling whether on-ground or through aerial controls, was a continual challenge both financially with helicopter hire, and for stretched Ranger resources. Wild dogs were also trapped and there were reports of crocodiles and goannas attacking nests. 

“There are a lot of challenges and as we are hearing, newer threats such as beach vehicles, local fisheries, and littering – in particular offshore litter coming in from around the international waters, such as ghost nets and other dangerous items, need to be addressed on a bigger scale,” Cape York NRM Biodiversity and Fire Manager and WCTTAA Coordinator Kerri Woodcock said.

“This is not to take away from the amazing work the Ranger Groups and others are doing on Country to protect the turtles. Look at the numbers being presented here today, with up to 90 per cent hatching success. These Rangers are on the ground, protecting, caring for and strengthening our turtle numbers in sometimes 40 degree heat, in some of the remotest parts of the country.

“Our knowledge and data base are growing with each year, predation rates are declining - the WCTTAA project is one of the most successful turtle protection programs in Australia.”

The meeting also heard from representatives from APN Cape York, Rio Tinto; Queensland Department of Environment and Science, including from Mike Gregory who oversees the Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program which supports WCTTAA; the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment; and the National Feral Pig Action Plan. 

A full report on this year’s turtle season is being prepared and will be available on the Cape York NRM and WCTTAA websites in the new year.

Media contact: Andree Stephens 0438 082 939



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