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