Cape York sea turtles helped by Indigenous management

4 September 2014

A new method to prevent feral pigs destroying turtle nests on a ten-kilometre stretch of beach in western Cape York has resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in nest predation in the trial area.

The beach, on Southern Wik homelands between the Kirke and Knox rivers, is managed by Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) Cape York, an organisation owned and run by the Traditional Owners.

APN has been working with partners Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, Cape York Sustainable Futures and CSIRO since 2010 to develop environmental management strategies to care for their country.

Although intensive feral pig culls were undertaken in 2011 and 2012, turtle nest predation remained unchanged. Pigs were still eating almost all the eggs from the nests.

Two years of monitoring beaches allowed the APN rangers, Traditional Owners and scientists to review the effectiveness of the methods used in their management activities and in 2013 they decided to trial a ‘chemical fence’ of poisoned grain bait behind a selected nesting beach area.

The chemical fence was applied in a very targeted and controlled way along the beach during the nesting period. Motion sensing cameras were set up on each bait station to monitor their use by pigs, while the nests were mointored by surveys on foot throughout the trial.

The new method resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in turtle nest predation in the ten kilometre trial area, which is good news for the species that were monitored.

Populations of olive ridley and flatback turtles have decreased globally over the past 20 years, and they are now considered endangered and vulnerable (respectively). Western Cape York remains one of their few known nesting grounds around the world.

Although it is common to see these turtles in the seas around northern Australia, knowledge about their population, nesting sites and threats is limited to only a few sites and aerial survey data.

The review process undertaken by the group was funded by the Northern Australia Hub as part of the National Environmental Research Program. The project team is documenting the process so that other ranger groups can use the planning approach to improve environmental and cultural outcomes. Results are expected by the end of 2014.

Read more about this project.


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