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Busy season for marine turtle protection

Training in new data collection for marine turtle nest protection and trialing nest-temperature monitoring have been the focus for the western Cape York Peninsula turtle season with members of the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) adopting the new techniques with great success.

“I think a lot of the ranger groups are very happy with the new NESTOR app, it’s very user-friendly, everyone is on top of it," Cape York NRM WCTTAA coordinator Dr Manuela Fischer said. 

Over several months, Dr Fischer delivered new iPads, and assisted with training by Ecologistics consultant Ben Jones. 

“It was the first time at the turtle camps for me in my new role,” she said. “It was good to be part of the different groups, getting to know all the rangers and engaging with the communities.”

Of course, seeing turtle hatchlings for the first time was another highlight. 

“They were very cute,” she said. “But it was a shame not to see any Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles… next year.”

The NESTOR app is a marine turtle nesting data collection tool that records GPS locations of current nests with an inbuilt map.

“We’ll be collating the data and reviewing it at our annual WCTTAA forum, and ironing out any glitches,” she said. 

Dr Fischer also made a return stop at Pennefather Beach to take part in the beach clean-up organised by Napranum’s Nanum Wungthim Land and Sea Rangers and Tangaroa Blue Foundation. 

“That was a great event, and while I was there we started the temperature data logging project.” 

The project has been developed to address the growing concerns of warming sand temperatures which research is indicating is having an impact on the sex ratio of Olive Ridley turtles, producing more female and less male hatchlings. 

“I deployed 10 trackers at five nests to record the heat temperatures."

With the help of an interested family participating in the clean-up, she placed the trackers under the sand – one near the nest and another next to the nest – for comparisons. 

The nests chosen also have purpose-built cages to protect the turtle eggs from feral animals. Shade cloth was placed over the cages to record any impacts to temperature. 

“I have programmed the trackers to collect data every half hour for two months. That will be the trial this year, to see how the equipment works and what the temperatures are, and whether the shading is helping. 

“If the impact of the shade cloth is working, we’ll put more of these trackers into the nests closer to the eggs, along more beaches where the Olive Ridley’s nest, or we will trial another method of cooling the sand.” 

“It’s about trying to restore the balance,” she said.

WCTTAA is a partnership of six on-ground Indigenous land and sea owners and managers which has been operating for more than 10 years with support from Cape York NRM. Its annual turtle nest protection program covers Olive Ridley, Flatback (Natator depressus), some Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), nests. 

This project received grant funding from the Australian Government.