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When welding works for turtle protection

Land and Sea Rangers from Pormpuraaw and Kowanyama have taken their welding skills to the next level, by learning how to build aluminium cages used to protect turtle nests from predation on the western Cape York Peninsula. 

The week-long training, supported by Cape York NRM, was developed to improve resources for land and sea rangers working to protect and monitor turtle nesting.

Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Coordinator Clinton Williams said the training had gone extremely well, with seven rangers in the course.

“It’s been great, the guys have really liked it,” he said from Pormpuraaw. “Unfortunately rangers from Mapoon and Napranum couldn’t make it because of the weather, but hopefully there will be other chances.”

The purpose-built cages were designed in 2016 by former Pormpuraaw Ranger Coordinator, Robbie Morris, and have been used by the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) ever since. They have been highly successful in preventing feral pigs, dogs and goannas from raiding turtle nests. They are also a visual reminder to humans driving on beaches to avoid the nests. 

“The cages, together with other predator control methods, have contributed to an enormous turn-around in turtle nest predation rates, down from almost 100% to below 30%,” Cape York NRM WCTTAA Coordinator Dr Manuela Fischer said. 

“One of the issues often raised in WCTTAA forums was the lack of cages available to the Alliance members. They are factory-made and transported to the Cape, which can be costly and take time. 

“By upskilling the rangers this way, cages can be built on the Cape and supplied to other WCTTAA ranger groups and regions.”

Clinton said the training had already been productive,  with about five cages to be built by the end of the course. 

Trainer Bruce Landsdown from INLOC has worked with Pormpuraaw many times and has the right approach. 

“He’s great, he’s really letting the guys take ownership of this training,” Clinton said.

“For Pormpuraaw, the goal is to start up a little production here and get the rangers to build cages for other groups that want them. Potentially, we could run a business that supplies cages to protect turtle nests for other organisations, offering income opportunities for the Pormpuraaw Ranger Program.

“That will all come together with the guys spending time on it after training, perfecting this technique. 

“We’ve always had the equipment to build the cages, it was just a matter of getting the training delivered and getting the guys hands-on building cages and taking them through that process.”

Clinton said with the turtle nesting season likely starting in late May/early June, there was still time to build supply. 

“It’s a good wet season program. We can’t really get out anywhere, so we can use the time to do some repairs and build more cages.”

The cages are placed over the turtle nests by rangers during the nesting season. Each nest is tagged, monitored, and data is collected on hatchling success, predator attempts, and other information. 

They have mesh spaces large enough for hatchlings to leave the nest and make their way to the sea but small enough to keep predators out. 

“The more cages we can use, the more nests we can save, and improve the survival trajectory of these creatures,” Manuela said. 

The WCTTAA is a group of six Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger groups that protect endangered turtle species along eight beaches covering approximately 170km of coastline.

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WCTTAA is supported by Cape York NRM and receives grant funding from the Queensland and Australian Governments.