Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cape York turtle deaths

This wet season has seen  a number of cyclones/ tropical lows move into the Gulf of Carpenteria. These storms bring strong winds that push nets and debris onto the beaches of western Cape York. In the path of these nets are countless marine life, including many sea turtles. On Pennefather Beach alone over 60 turtles were washed up, caught in nets, over a 2 week period!!! We found a similar situation when we surveyed some of the more remote areas on northern Cape York. Because much of this coastline is innaccessible in the wet season, it is unknown what the scale of the issue is. But is is likely that hundreds to thousands of turtles die on Cape York this way each year.

The picture below shows 2 adult female flatback turtles washed up in nets on the mainland south of Crab Island. If you look carefully you will also see feral pig tracks which were preying on the helpless turtles.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Satellite Tracking Hawksbill Turtles

A satellite transmitter was attached to a hawksbill turtle during the recent nesting study on Milman Island. This will enable us to determine the post nesting migration of this particular nesting female.The project is designed to gather an understanding of the range of movement, migration routes, habitat use and behaviour – information critical to effectively manage the population. 

You can see where the hawksbill is right now by clicking on the image below:
Funding for the transmitter was provided by the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund, and deployed as part of the Milman Island project in collaboration with Sea Turtle Foundation and QPWS. Funding and support also kindly provided by Project Aware and Sea Swift Shipping.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coral cays, hawksbills, crocodiles, cyclones and snakes!

We have just returned from Milman Island where we assisted Sea turtle Foundation and QPWS with the annual monitoring of hawksbill turtles at this important rookery. Rangers from Injinoo also attended for 1 week and assisted in data collection and attachment of a satellite transmitter to a hawksbill.
A hovering cyclone on the east coast meant the weather was a little rough durng the first period. King tides and strong winds caused the loss of sand from the nesting beach and washed away many clutches. The wall of sand which remained made it difficult for turtles to access nesting sites.
Overall, it was an average year for hawksbills and numbers keep decreasing each year. It was a quiet year for greens as predicted - their nesting cycles are linked with the southern oscillation.
The wildlife on the island kept us on our toes - we had to contend with crocodiles on the beaches and amethyst pythons waiting to ambush us from trees (as fellow researcher Tim will attest!)!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Low to trap sea life in ghost nets (The Cairns Post, 19 Jan 2010, Page 5)

Low to trap sea life in ghost nets

The Cairns Post
19 Jan 2010

A CAPE York biologist was gearing up for more sea turtle rescues and deaths yesterday as a tropical low hit northern parts of the peninsula. Brett Leis said conservationists would patrol remote beaches once the tropical low had passed over more...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Milman Island Hawksbill Turtle Research 2010

Milman Island, situated off Cape York in the northern Great Barrier Reef, is one of the world's most important hawksbill sea turtle rookeries (Photo: GBRMPA)

In 2010, Cape York Sustainable Futures has teamed up with the Sea Turtle Foundation and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service for the Milman Island Hawksbill Turtle Research Project. We have been busily assisting in organising logistics and gear for this important conservation project. The first research team left yesterday and are now on their way north to the top of the Great Barrier Reef on the cargo ship 'Trinity Bay' and will land on the island in 2 days. They will be joined by project staff in 2 weeks time.

Research into the nesting demographics of hawksbills has been occurring annually on the island for the past 15 years. This is the longest running study of its kind. Hawksbill turtles are listed as 'Critically Endangered' under the IUCN. In 2010 the team will further the understanding of the impacts of climate change on the island.

In addition, Traditional Owners and Injinoo Rangers will be assisting with the study and will be provided with training in sea turtle biology and assessment. Additionally, Torres Strait Islander students from Thursday Island will also be involved in the monitoring of the turtles.

Students from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, and an Earthwatch volunteer from South Africa, collect data from a nesting hawksbill turtle on Milman Island in 2005 (Photo: Brett Leis)

Milman Island

To find out more information on the Milman Island Hawksbill Sea turtle Research Project, go to the Sea Turtle Foundation website by clicking on the image below:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Climate change could impact turtle gender: scientist

News article: ABC News Fri Jan 8

There are concerns climate change could affect turtles that travel from across the Asia Pacific to nest on islands off the north Queensland coast.
A group of scientists is today heading to Milman Island off Cape York to continue a long-term research project.
David Roe from the Sea Turtle Foundation says the animals' gender is determined by sand temperatures.
Researchers hypothesise that climate change could lead to a shortage of male turtles.
"Other dangers that we are more fearful about ... is that rising sea levels and increased storm frequency and ferocity which are also predicted through climate change can lead to the erosion of nesting beaches and indeed the swamping and destruction of turtle nests," he said.

Cape York: one of the most remote places on Earth

Cape York was recently named in the top 10 most remote places on earth. See article at:

Indeed, as part of the sea turtle project we spend a lot of time travelling up Cape York and significant time in the field in very remote locations. For this reason there are a lot of logistics in planning field trips. We have to ensure that our equipment is up to scratch and safety protocols are in place, particularly as we spend a lot of time around saltwater crocodile habitat!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

24,000 pigs eradicated on western Cape York to protect sea turtles

In one of the largest culls of it's kind, over 24,000 pigs have been removed in 3 years from the the coastal areas of western Cape York as a result of aerial culls undertaken to protect important sea turtle nesting beaches. Cape York Sustainable Futures has worked in collaboration with highly trained marksmen from the Cape York Weeds and Feral Animal Program to remove pigs from priority areas. These culls have been undertaken on land managed by Injinoo, Mapoon, Napranum, Aurukun, Kowanyama and Pormpuraaw with the support of the communities and traditional owners of these areas. Aerial culling is one of the most cost effective options in remote areas such as Cape York.

Sea Turtle Conservation Officer Brett Leis says "Surveys have shown that these culls have been successful in reducing pig predation on turtle nests. However the effort needs to continue and it is important that other techniques, such as baiting, are used to complement the aerial shoots".

A mob of pigs is targetted by a trained marksman in a wetland behind a Cape York turtle nesting beach (Photo credit: Courier Mail).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Year of Biodiversity

Due to human activities, the world's animal and plant species are disappearing at a rate some experts put at 1,000 times the natural progression marking 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity - the variety of life on Earth. 

Leatherback sea turtle (Photo © Brian J. Hutchinson)

A new research report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has outlined ten species likely to be hardest hit by climate change. The leatherback sea turtle and koala are among these most vulnerable species.

Sea turtles are being affected by rising sea levels and increased storm activity due to climate change which destroys its nesting habitats. Temperature increases may lead to a reduction in the proportion of males relative to females.
"Sea turtles are truly resilient creatures that have survived millions of years of global change, yet today they are in decline pan-globally due to the unprecedented pace of climate change and other human-generated impacts," said Dr. Roderic Mast, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group and vice president of the nonprofit Conservation International. "Sea turtles are bellwethers, whose message to man is that slowing and reversing climate change is urgent."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saving Injinoo's Sea Turtles

Article from NPARC Newsletter Issue 9

Flatback sea turtles on the Cape York West Coast are under threat from feral pigs. In some areas, as many as 100% of nests laid are dug up and eaten! Their future is bleak - if this rate of predation continues, it has the possibility of causing regional extinction within the next 20 years!

However, the flatbacks have some new friends in their fight for survival. Injinoo Land and Sea Rangers, Apudthama Land Trust and NPARC, have been enthusiastic in getting turtle monitoring and feral pig control programs underway. They have been working with Mr Brett Leis, a Turtle Project Officer from the Cape York Sea Turtle Project (managed by Cape York Sustainable Futures), who has been assisting in developing conservation and management strategies, and is providing ongoing training to the Rangers.

Mr Leis said, “The program is aimed at improving the breeding success of endangered sea turtles. It is a race against time. Rangers spend significant time on the beaches collecting data to gather an understanding of turtle nesting numbers, pig activity and predation rates. Transects, sectors and sand plots are set up on nesting beaches such as those in the Jardine area. This information helps in developing management strategies and in implementing cost-effective control programs.”

Angkamuthi Traditional Owners, Apudthama Land Trust and Rangers, have been prioritizing locations for focused aerial culls, baiting and trapping programs. Results to date have been positive. “In some areas, sea turtle hatchlings are returning to the ocean in encouraging numbers for the first time in decades,” said Mr Brett Leis.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joint conservation program controls feral pigs on west and east coast turtle nesting beaches

An aerial baiting program aimed at saving threatened sea turtles has been successful in reducing feral pig numbers on both the west and east coast of Cape York. The program was jointly coordinated and funded by CYSF in a collaborative effort which saw Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Biosecurity Queensland, Apudthama Land Trust, Anggumuthi Traditional Owners, Injinoo Rangers, and CYSF all come together with a common goal to protect sea turtles. The program was based out of Heathlands National Park where baits were distributed by plane along over 150km of nesting beach. On the east coast, this will be important for reducing feral pigs prior to the summer nesting season. On the west coast, baiting occurred as a follow up to aerial culls to significantly reduce feral pig numbers. Surveys by AQIS and CYWAFAP along the west coast after the baiting program suggest that the program has been successful, with a substantial decrease in feral pigs in these coastal areas. Less pig activity should certainly see less predation on turtle nests and a chance for hatchlings to incubate and hatch.

The control of feral pigs not only protects threatened sea turtles but also provides many benefits for protection of other natural resources in the area. This includes protection of wetlands, soils, vegetation and species including waterbirds, ground mammals, crocodiles, and freshwater turtles.

Aerial Cull Dents Cape York Feral Pig Population

A feral pig aerial cull project has been undertaken in priority areas on the remote north-western Cape York coast. These areas have been targeted due to their importance for sea turtle nesting. CYSF coordinated the shoots with Jamie Molyneaux  from CYWAFAP, and worked with Apudthama Land Trust,Anggumuthi Traditional Owners and QPWS, to identify target areas.

A total of 450 pigs were cull over the 5 days between the Jardine River and the Skardon River. Field surveys were conducted along the Jardine beach after the cull was complete to evaluate whether the cull had reduced predation rates.  Predation had decreased; however there was still signs of pig activity on the beach. Planning  has commenced for a baiting and trapping program to compliment these shoots.

Photo credits: Jamie Molyneaux, CYWAFAP; Courier Mail

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Turtle: The Incredible Journey

A future for Cape York's Sea Turtles?

Sea turtles are slow growing, long lived species and can take up to 50 years before they even start breeding! For this reason the impacts of high levels of feral pig predation on turtle nests is not immediately noticeable. But turtles on western Cape York are in serious decline and could face extinction within 20 years!

The key to protecting sea turtles on western Cape York is in establishing sustainable and long term conservation programs. Until wide scale feral pig control technology is designed, short term programs have limited success and can waste significant resources.

The focus of the project is to develop long-term conservation strategies that are sustainable. Western Cape York is a remote coastline stretching more than 700kms and therefore developing programs across the various communities is essential. By training Indigenous Rangers, it not only provides a key on-ground resource but also establishes local ongoing protection programs.

The monitoring component of the program is aimed at collecting data to understand the status of the turtle populations and to determine the effectiveness of various control programs. This includes establishing index beaches and undertaking standardized surveys along the coast. This data is important for developing targeted and cost-effective management strategies. Control of feral pigs needs to be established as an annual program and needs to have the best bang for the buck!

Saving sea turtles caught in ghost nets at Napranum

In response to the large numbers of stranded turtles caught in Ghost nets, the project has been granted funding from the Community Coast Care grants to set-up a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre to hold injured turtles at Pennefather River, situated halfway between Weipa and Mapoon on the west coast. Napranum Land Protection Officers Peter Harper and Angela Christie have been patrolling Pennefather beach over the wet season to rescue marine turtles caught in Ghost nets.

Tanks, pumps, and plumbing equipment have been purchased and set up at Pennefather. Injured turtles will be rehabilitated and released on site. Turtles requiring more serious attention will be transported to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre to receive long term care if necessary. Satellite trackers will also be purchased to help gather important information on post-recovery movements, particularly for endangered olive ridleys.

Crab Island, western Cape York

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Aerial surveys

Brett Leis has been working in collaboration with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and environmental consultancy GHD in a project to determine turtle nesting distribution and seasonal patterns on western Cape York. This has involved conducting aerial surveys of the coast to obtain baseline data to highlight “hot spots”, quantify nest predation and collect other incidental data such as ghost net distribution and density.  These data can then be used to develop targeted management and funding strategies to specifically address threats. Onground truthing has been provided by indigenous Rangers at key beaches along the coast to identify any nightly variations and value add to the collected data.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Western Cape York Sea Turtle Nesting Season

Photo: Brett Leis

The remote beaches of western Cape York are again being marked by the characteristic tracks of sea turtles as they drag their heavy bodies out of the sea.  July is an exciting time as it heralds the start of the turtle nesting season on western Cape York. Flatback and olive ridley turtles begin nesting in numbers and will do so until October. This area is unique for sea turtle nesting – across the world sea turtles normally nest in the summer months, but on western Cape York they nest during the winter months! 
Unfortunately, along with the sea turtles tracks are the thousands of feral pig tracks which traverse the beaches in search of a meal of eggs or hatchlings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rangers at Mon Repos

Land and Sea Rangers Stanley Budby from Kowanyama and Shane Edwards from Pormpuraaw attended a week long training workshop at Mon Repos (near Bundaberg) in mid January 09. Mon Repos supports the most important loggerhead turtle nesting rookery in the South Pacific.

The training hosted by Dr Col Limpus covered a wide range of skills including field research, data collection methods and animal handling techniques. The rangers were able to gain hands on experience in tagging turtles, nest relocation and measuring hatchlings.