Dr Scott Whiting, DBCA
Dr Tony Tucker, DBCA
Dr Nicky Mitchell, UWA
Blair Bentley, UWA
Dr Oliver Berry, CSIRO
Dr. Kellie Pendoley, Pendoley Environmental
Dr. Nancy FitzSimmons, Griffith Univ.
Kimberley Marine Research Program (KMRP) scientists recently presented the findings of their project to determine key biological indices required to understand and manage nesting sea turtles along the Kimberley coast.
As part of the WAMSI KMRP, supported by the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, scientists from Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), UWA and CSIRO have been working with Traditional Owners to better understand nesting sea turtles in the Kimberley.
The Kimberley region is one of few places in Australia where a knowledge gap remains for a basic understanding of marine turtle nesting biology. The females are most accessible when they come ashore to lay eggs and predictable because individuals show strong fidelity to rookeries. This fidelity also drives spatial differentiation and allows DNA analyses to define connectivity and management units.
With such an extensive regional scale project spanning 12000 kilometres of coastline we also identified climate change as a major environmental driver of potential population change. Climate change also has potential to modify beach habitat through sea level rise and increased storm events and incubation parameters are changed by rising thermal conditions.
Turtle sex is determined by incubation temperature of the beach sand and warmer temperatures may skew sex ratios towards females or even hotter temperatures to lethal levels.
The Kimberley has existing Indigenous custodians of land and sea that reside along the coast or in regional urban communities. These groups hold a wealth of knowledge about the natural environment and are committed to its management. These groups were integral to this project.
These presentations discuss four major project components: investigating distribution and seasonality of nesting; defining management units using genetics; identifying critical incubation indices affected by climate change impacts; and developing two-way communication and collaborative partnerships with Indigenous groups through planning, onground work, training and information exchange. A key component to the research was the participation by 11 Indigenous groups.
Some of the main findings discussed include:
- Over 85% of all nesting beaches were surveyed across the Kimberley by aerial survey and onground visits
- Nesting hot spots were identified for winter and summer nesting seasons
- New flatback genetic stocks were identified and green turtle stocks were better defined
- Pivotal temperatures and lethal incubations thresholds were identified for green and flatback turtles
- Extensive collaborative field work resulted in an enhanced working relationship across multiple groups.
- Strategic regional and community management objectives were integrated to identify potential long-term monitoring locations and methods.
The KMRP Marine Turtle presentations can be also be found on the Marine Turtle project page at: www.wamsi.org.au/marine-turtles#presentations
The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.