Editor’s Note — This piece continues with our Ocean Organization Spotlight series. The series features all kinds of foundations and organizations working to protect the oceans and its inhabitants around the globe. See them all on our Ocean Organization Spotlight page.
By Kimberly Nielsen
The global protection of sea turtles is an important conservation challenge. All seven species of sea turtle are listed on the IUCN Red List as either vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, or data deficient. As species and ecosystems continue to be affected by human impacts and environmental changes, continued scientific research is necessary to develop and implement effective conservation strategies.
Gnaraloo is a working pastoral station in Western Australia located at the southern end of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area. This remote stretch of coastline is home to the largest confirmed mainland loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) rookery in WA, contributing to the third largest loggerhead population in the world. The Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program (GTCP) was initiated in 2008 to assess and preserve Gnaraloo’s sea turtle rookeries, which together average more than 400 nests annually. Each nesting season, the GTCP field team completes research on the loggerheads, and occasionally green turtles (Chelonia mydas), nesting at Gnaraloo, and promotes conservation efforts through public education and outreach.
The objective of the GTCP is to protect Gnaraloo’s turtle rookeries by gathering baseline data on the nesting beaches. On-ground research during nesting season is completed from November to February through beach surveys within two rookeries: the Gnaraloo Bay Rookery and the Gnaraloo Cape Farquhar Rookery. Basic but critical biological data still remains unknown for this region: How many individual females nest in Gnaraloo? How often do they nest? Where do they migrate to forage? The data collected through the GTCP monitoring program will shed light on their nesting behavior and patterns of movement.
The primary monitoring method used by the GTCP is the interpretation of tracks left on the beach by nesting turtles. Track characteristics can be interpreted to identify the species and determinwhether or not the female successfully nested. Furthermore, a random sub-sample of nests are designated as Sampled Nests and are checked each day over the course of incubation for signs of predation or disturbance, erosion, tidal inundation, and hatchling emergence.
The GTCP operates in cooperation with the Gnaraloo Feral Animal Control Program, which was implemented to reduce the impact of feral predators on sea turtle nests on the Gnaraloo coast. Since the 2010/2011 season, feral predation has been maintained at 0%, providing complete protection of eggs and hatchlings from foxes, feral cats, and wild dogs.
In addition to working in the field, a vital component of the GTCP is community engagement. Public engagement and widespread awareness of environmental issues provides a connection that can inspire conservation. In the field at Gnaraloo, community members and school groups are invited to join the GTCP on beach surveys to learn about field work, monitoring techniques, and sea turtle conservation. Once the nesting season concludes, the GTCP then travels south along the WA coast, stopping at different towns between Gnaraloo and Perth to give presentations to thousands of students and community members about sea turtle conservation.
To learn more about sea turtle conservation and keep up-to-date with nesting season at Gnaraloo, like the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program Facebook page or visit the GTCP website: www.gnaraloo.com/conservation/gnaraloo-turtle-conservation-program.
Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.