Tur­tles on the bounce back

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

SUR­VEYS con­ducted dur­ing this year’s turtle nest­ing sea­son are ex­pected to show if the pop­u­la­tion of green tur­tles is bounc­ing back nearly three years af­ter cy­clone Yasi de­stroyed much of their food sup­ply.

Novem­ber and De­cem­ber mark the peak pe­riod in the Great Bar­rier Reef where fe­male tur­tles lay their eggs on a beach in the re­gion where they were born.

Great Bar­rier Reef Ma­rine Park Au­thor­ity species con­ser­va­tion man­ager Mark Read said data on the num­ber of fe­male green tur­tles that nest will pro­vide valu­able in­for­ma­tion on the health of this vul­ner­a­ble species.

‘‘Be­cause green tur­tles are her­biv­o­rous, they were the hard­est hit of all the turtle species in the Ma­rine Park when cy­clone Yasi and ex­ten­sive flood­ing wiped out large swathes of sea­grass,’’ Dr Read said.

‘‘The num­ber of fe­males able to breed also tends to plum­met when there’s a de­cline in sea­grass or al­gae.

‘‘Usu­ally there’s a time lag of about two to three years af­ter a se­vere weather event be­fore the pro­por­tion of nest­ing fe­males bounces back, so this year’s nest­ing sea­son will be im­por­tant in show­ing whether num­bers are re­turn­ing to nor­mal lev­els.’’

A range of gov­ern­ment agen­cies, tra­di­tional owner groups, re­searchers and vol­un­teers con­duct an­nual sur­veys dur­ing turtle nest­ing sea­son, with the largest counts tak­ing place on Raine Is­land, the Capricorn Bunker group of is­lands near Bund­aberg and Glad­stone, and the main­land beaches around cen­tral Queens­land.

‘‘The sea jour­ney for a large num­ber of tur­tles will take many weeks, and some will even end up do­ing a 5000 kilo­me­tre round trip,’’ Dr Read.

‘‘In­ter­est­ingly, they don’t stop for food along the way.

‘‘They store their en­tire en­ergy re­serves as fat which is enough to last them for their trip to the Reef and back home again – all while pro­duc­ing up to 1000 eggs within their bod­ies.

‘‘It re­ally is an amaz­ing feat.’’

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