Turtle crisis looms for Great Barrier Reef

Posted on August, 10 2011

WWF is warning that a wildlife crisis is developing along parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coast with reports of unusually high numbers of endangered turtles washing up dead or starving. 
Queensland, Australia: WWF has received numerous reports from aboriginal groups on the north-eastern coast of Australia of large numbers of sick, starving and dead turtles washing up on beaches. The reports come following the loss of sea grasses after Cyclone Yasi and floods hit the area back in February.

The increase in turtle deaths for April may be more than five times higher this year compared to the same time last year.

“If these numbers are accurate, then this is a shocking development for the Great Barrier Reef” said WWF’s Conservation on Country Manager Cliff Cobbo. “We urgently need clarification from the Queensland Government on how many turtles are being found dead along the Great Barrier Reef coast”.

Turtle hospitals in Townsville, Queensland are being overwhelmed with sick and starving animals and do not have the resources to handle the number of turtles expected to need emergency care over the next 18 months.

Some local aboriginal groups have been so concerned by what they are seeing they plan to suspend issuing hunting permits within their saltwater country.

CEO of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, Phil Rist, said large numbers of dead turtles and dugongs had been found in recent weeks and that strandings are occurring on a weekly basis.

Numerous threats

WWF believes recent extreme weather events like Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods, together with threats such as entanglement in fishing nets, water pollution and large-scale coastal developments have led to this increase in deaths.

“In the past turtles have been healthy enough to deal with extreme weather events, but the combined pressure of more fishing nets, declining water quality and associated disease, on top of the loss of critical habitats as a result of large coastal developments have all undermined their chances of survival,” Cobbo said.

WWF is calling on both sides of Queensland politics to commit to building greater resilience in populations of threatened marine species on the Great Barrier Reef through reforming net fisheries, reducing land-based pollution on the reef, and better managing large coastal developments.

WWF’s Global Marine Turtle Programme

Five of the seven species of marine turtle are classified as endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

WWF has been working on marine turtle conservation for nearly 50 years and has provided a Global Marine Turtle Strategy to outline WWF priorities for marine turtle conservation.

The benefits of saving marine turtles go far beyond simply protecting these remarkable species.
Conservation efforts will make fisheries more sustainable and provide benefits to small communities and with marine turtles becoming increasingly important as an ecotourism attraction, a live turtle is worth more than a dead turtle.
Hawksbill turtles are threatened from fishing activities and international trade.
© WWF / Cat Holloway
Green sea turtle. Zanzibar Island. Tanzania
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)
© Martin HARVEY / WWF