Double threat to North Australia’s turtles

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Green turtle populations off the coast of Townsville are facing a double threat of speeding boats and a lack of food.

Dr Ellen Ariel, Senior Lecturer in Virology in James Cook University’s School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, said she would like to see zones where boats have to slow down over shallow waters where turtles feed.

According to surveys done by JCU and Department of Environment and Resource Management, turtles are still having a lot of trouble finding enough food in certain areas in the Townsville coastal region.

“Although some turtles appear to be doing okay, many turtles sampled are extremely skinny and slow moving,” she said.

“Starving turtles are also slower to move out of the way of approaching boats.”

Dr Ariel said a recent operation near Magnetic Island brought researchers into contact with a several turtles that had been hit by boats including a large female with a massive boat strike injury to her shell.

“It is really sad to see that amount of damage to such a large and ancient creature. Turtles take a long time to mature; an estimate of 30 years plus, so breeding females are really important to the populations, because they have made it,” she said.

“We have to do everything to protect these big mother turtles, because they have the potential to repopulate our waters with turtles in the future, when the environmental situation hopefully improves.

“The turtles are facing a tough time already without us running them over with speed boats.”

Dr Ariel said that the last few years had been tough for the creatures due to their favourite food – seagrass – being wiped out by high rainfall weather events along the Queensland coast.

Dr Ariel said last year JCU and Ian Bell from DERM started joint monitoring of local feeding populations to find out what is happening within Cleveland Bay and not just waiting for the turtles to wash ashore starving.

Dr Ariel said with winter approaching, the seagrass growth would likely slow down too and the turtles may be faced with yet another season of starvation.

“This is not something we can change in the short term although many rehabilitation volunteers are lined up to assist if turtles need help this coming winter, both at the Reef HQ Turtles hospital and at other volunteer operations.”

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