Loggerhead turtles at Gnaraloo enjoy bumper nesting season in boost for endangered species
There are fresh hopes for the plight of the endangered loggerhead turtle after an unusually bumper season at a key nesting ground in Western Australia.
For almost a decade, the number of nests recorded at one of the migratory species’ prime hatching grounds at Gnaraloo, on WA’s Ningaloo coast, has been steadily dropping.
But the manager of the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program, Karen Hattingh, said more than 400 nests were spotted this season.
« We were super surprised … there was actually a bumper season and all the activities went up, much more than we expected, » she said.
About 300 nests were found in the 2015-16 season.
Ms Hattingh said much more research was needed to work out why the number of nests increased, but said efforts to control feral predators were helping the species.
« We’ve now had six consecutive years of zero predation by feral predators on the turtle nest because of management activities, » she said.
Roughly one in 2,000 female loggerhead turtles return to the site where they were born to nest.
But where the turtles go has been a mystery to those wanting to improve the odds of the species’ survival.
A satellite tracking program launched in late 2015 helped uncover where the loggerhead turtles migrate.
Of the 10 female turtles fitted with a tracker after laying at Gnaraloo, half travelled south, while the remainder scattered north.
One of the turtles was eventually found dead on a beach at the Tiwi Islands, more than 2,000 kilometres from her nests at Gnaraloo.
Aubrey Strydom, who is involved in the program, said park rangers from the North Territory travelled to the Tiwi Islands site.
« They ended up flying out on a helicopter and brought back her body, » he said.
« So she’d died out there and when we recovered her we could see why she’d swam so strangely because half of her front flipper had been bitten or cut off. »
Mr Strydom hopes that tracking the endangered turtles will help conservation efforts.
« If we find out they frequent shipping channels, then they could change the rules for shipping to try and protect them, » he said.
« For example ‘go slow zones’ in some of the marine parks in Queensland have done that, where some of the habitats are close to shipping lanes. »