AUSTRALIA’s precious sea turtles are in danger of becoming extinct if we don’t offer the species greater protections, warns Johanna Karam, General Manager of the Sea Turtle Foundation.
On World Turtle Day, Thursday, March 23, the foundation is on a vital fundraising rescue mission for one of the world’s oldest sea creatures who help keep the ocean’s seagrass beds and coral reefs healthy.
They’re aiming to raise $10,000 so that they can continue their vital work conducting important research surveys, delivering educational programs in schools, and conducting training for volunteers to help rescue stranded turtles in North Queensland.
“We’ve had extreme weather events over the past summer and we’re concerned how these events will affect sea turtles,” Johanna said.
“In 2011, Cyclone Yasi caused massive destruction to seagrass beds along the coast of Queensland, leading to mass strandings of green turtles, who depend on seagrass for food, ” Johanna added.
The Sea Turtle Foundation is responsible for managing sea turtle rescues in North Queensland, from Ingham to Bowen, and works closely with Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service.
“We have literally responded to hundreds of reports of sick, injured and dead turtles – predominantly Green sea turtles”, Johanna added.
With the unseasonal ex-Tropical Cyclone Ann dumping up to 150mm of rain on the coast last week, Johanna says the not-for-profit organisation needs to be increasingly ready for many more severe weather events in the future.
“We also collect very important data from what type of species it is, to clues about how they died. This data helps the government to decide what sort of response is needed to deal with these types of issues,” Johanna said.
Johanna said the organisation collaborates with James Cook University’s Turtle Health Research team and will be part of their World Turtle Day event next week to raise further awareness of the importance of sea turtles and the threats they face.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the seven marine turtles in the world. Unfortunately, four of these turtles are on the endangered species list (loggerhead, olive ridley, hawksbill and leatherback) and two are considered to be vulnerable (green and flatback).
New research, released in May by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, revealed that marine turtle hatchlings entering the oceans close to jetties have a high likelihood of being eaten.
Last year, it was revealed that almost of the green sea turtle hatchlings born in the northern Great Barrier Reef over at least the past two decades were female due to the sand’s warmer-than-average temperatures.
“We are also seeing worrying decreases in the number of new juvenile turtles adding to populations in important feeding grounds on the GBR,” Johanna said.
Other threats include increased boating activity in Marine Protected Areas, the growing tide of plastic pollution, and predatory animals such as feral pigs.
“On World Sea Turtle Day on June 16 we also hope to work with the government to conduct research tagging at Green Island in Far North Queensland,” Johanna added.
Johanna is encouraging everyone to do their part in looking after these precious creatures, particularly to recycle responsibly.
“Turtles can easily ingest a plastic bag because they think it’s a jellyfish, one of their favourite types of food, so please recycle your plastic bag properly,” she said.
“Turtles are amazingly beautiful creatures. Once you start working with them it becomes very addictive. They’ve been around for at least 150 million years. We don’t want to be the generation that sees an end to these incredible species,” Johanna said.
You can still donate to the Sea Turtle Foundation by visiting their Facebook Page or directly through their website: www.seaturtlefoundation.org/donate.