AERIAL surveys have discovered multiple previously unrecorded turtle nesting “hot spots” along the north Queensland coastline.
The number of turtles observed during the surveys is significant, with beach tracks revealing 185 attempts by flatback and green turtles to nest between Euri Creek (near Bowen) and Magnetic Island in December 2014.
This new information serves as a major bonus for organisations involved in the conservation of these species.
But there is one serious negative: feral pigs are preying on nests at many of these newly discovered hot spots.
The survey, conducted by helicopter, was a joint project by WWF-Australia and the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP).
“Our survey was the first comprehensive assessment of turtle nesting and predator activity in the Whitsunday-Burdekin-Townsville region and we gathered vital information,” said WWF-Australia’s Species Conservation Project Coordinator Christine Hof.
“This is a very welcome discovery: the number of turtles nesting is regionally substantial and the numbers found may be very important for sustaining populations.
“Programs to control feral pigs can now be directed to the hot spots we discovered.
“Because turtle and pig behaviour varies from season to season we need to conduct surveys for four years running to accurately piece together what is happening but this is a great start,” she said.
Queensland Government research scientist Dr Ian Bell said the benefit of using a helicopter was that inaccessible areas could be easily surveyed.
“We really didn’t have a clear idea of nesting and predator activity across a big stretch of the northern Great Barrier Reef. We only had anecdotal evidence and the results of on-ground surveys that focused on accessible areas,” he said.
“Now that we know the nesting and predation ‘hot spots’ we can target management action in these locations to reduce predation impacts and focus effort to protect turtles in these areas,” he said.
The key findings of the survey include:
– Flatback and green turtle nesting occurs along the majority of the Whitsunday-Burdekin-Townsville coastline.
– 185 flatback and green turtle nesting attempt tracks were recorded. The majority were thought to be flatback turtles.
– Higher density nesting occurs on the mainland coastal beaches at Rita Island (51 tracks), Paradise Bay (22 tracks), and Abbot Point (21 tracks).
– Wunjunga Beach supports regionally high density nesting of flatback turtles but is monitored daily (with sighted tracks removed)
– Predator tracks (primarily pigs) were identified on the mainland coastal beaches at Abbot Bay, Abbot Point, eastern Cape Upstart, Rita Island, Bowling Green Bay/eastern coast of Cape Cleveland, AIMS beach and Paradise Bay.
‘Hot spots’ (where turtle nesting and predator activity overlap) should be further investigated including Rita Island, the eastern beaches of Cape Cleveland particularly Paradise Bay, Abbot Bay including Abbot Point.
This survey was a trial, with the researchers suggesting that a more comprehensive survey be conducted along the entire Queensland coastline to provide a clearer picture of turtle and predator activity, and to enable better targeting of on-ground action to assist breeding turtles and control predators.
Image: Flatback turtle on the beach, North Queensland. © Dr ian Bell / EHP.