Predicting the vulnerability of flatback turtle rookeries to a changing climate

What? To predict the vulnerability of flatback turtle rookeries on the North West Shelf to increasing sand temperatures, sea level rise and increased storm frequency.


Why? This project will provide critical information for the management of marine turtles and their rookeries and help fill a gap in the scientific literature regarding the impact of increasing temperatures on turtle eggs and hatchling survival. This could help assess vulnerability and long-term conservation value of different nesting sites and determine if there is need for human intervention.

What have we found? This project has just started

Who are our partners? University of Western Australia

Radioactive contamination and impact on the Montebello Islands

What? This project is designed as a staged approach. Stage 1 is to investigate the level of contamination and the potential residual impacts of radionuclides at Montebello Islands on turtles and researchers. Stage 2 will be developed if significant radionuclides are found.


Why? Three nuclear tests were conducted at the Montebello Islands in the 1950s on two islands. Studies conducted in the 1990s suggested that soil plutonium concentrations were six and 10 times higher on Trimouille Island and Alpha Island respectively than after the clean up a Maralinga. Plutonium, uranium and other radionuclides are of interest as they remain at elevated concentrations, and some will persist for thousands of years. The degree to which actinides can accumulate in, and impact plants and animals, has both conservation (e.g. what are potential impacts to turtles nesting on contaminated Montebello beaches) and workplace safety implications. 
What have we found? Preliminary results indicate that residual contamination on the beaches is relative low compared to the dunes and inland parts of the islands. This is mainly due to the dynamic nature of the sediment on the beaches caused by waves, cyclones and nesting turtles. The calculated dose rates to turtles falls below the benchmark for harmful effects to wildlife.
Who are our partners? Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), DBCA.

Investigating the impact of artificial light on turtles close to shore

What? To determine the impacts of artificial light of near shore movements of flatback hatchlings and identify cues used for navigation from field and laboratory experiments.


Why? Light pollution is considered a primary risk to marine turtle populations and particularly on their early life-history stages. Although the negative impacts of artificial light on the orientation of marine turtle hatchlings from the nest to the sea has been well documented, the impact of artificial light on their in water behaviour is poorly understood. This project will fill critical knowledge gaps that could be used for mitigation of impacts through advice to new developments or managing existing light in urban or industrial areas.
What have we found? PhD candidate is still in the final stages of this project and all analyses are not completed. However, preliminary results show that hatchling flatback turtles are attracted to light at sea, there is a complex interaction between wave direction and light that influences turtle orientation. Coastal structures such as jetties also influence the level of hatchling predation adjacent to rookeries.
Who are our partners? DBCA, UWA, AIMS, Pendoley Environmental

Fox activity and control at Mundabullangana Station

What?  Investigates fox movement patterns and home ranges to assess whether there is individual or seasonal variability in their use of habitats.  It looks at the population densities of foxes and how closely related individuals in the population are.  The diets of foxes living adjacent to turtle nesting beaches are examined, to see whether they vary with seasons or areas, and see what sensory cues foxes use to locate marine turtle nests and hatchlings. Finally it trials aversion methods to see how effective they are on the movement patterns of red foxes. 


Why? Mundabullgana Station hosts one of the largest flatback rookeries in this the North West Shelf stock. Previous reports (Pendoley Pers. Comm.) state significant predation of eggs which was quantified by a camera trap study (King 2016). Managing foxes at this rookery is a priority and long-term efficient management will be informed by this study.
What have we found? Ph.D. candidate John-Michael Stuart used satellite tracking to track 14 foxes on and adjacent to turtle nesting beaches. He found that foxes maintained and patrol very tight  home ranges, they are highly depended on freshwater and utilise dens that are highly diverse in character.
Who are our partners? Murdoch University, Curtin University, DBCA.