Rare turtles caught on film for the first time in WA

By Shannon Verhagen 8 July 2016
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The discovery of an endangered marine turtle nest in remote WA will add valuable knowledge for the species’ conservation.

EXCITING NEW FOOTAGE has captured more than 100 olive ridley turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in Western Australia’s Kimberley.

It is the first time the endangered species has been filmed in WA, much to the excitement of Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) marine scientists and the Dambimangari traditional owners of the area.

It was a chance find – DPAW staff and Dambimangari rangers were clearing marine litter from a beach near Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park (about 400km north-east of Broome) when they made the discovery.

“It’s fantastic – it’s always exciting to find these things,” said Daniel Barrow, a senior marine ranger at the park.

olive ridley sea turtles

Olive ridley turtles are the smallest of Australia’s sea turtles. (Image: Cameron Smith, DPAW)

Daniel said the remote beach will now be included in their monitoring sites, which will allow them to identify and manage potential pressures to Australia’s smallest marine turtle early on.

Usually nesting in the Northern Territory and Queensland’s Cape York, it was a rare find – with only a handful of nests being discovered in the Kimberley in recent years.

However,  the footage is not only exciting due to the location at which it was taken, but also the large number of hatchlings – 103 to be exact – which can be seen scurrying toward the ocean before taking their first swim.

“It is not common to see the hatchlings actually emerge on mass, as it can occur quick quickly,” said Scott Whiting, the principal scientist of DPAW’s Marine Science Program.

“It is more common to come across a few single turtle hatchlings.”

There are thought to be several thousand nesting females in Australia, however decades of pig predation on Cape York and entanglement in ghost nets across northern Australia threaten the already endangered species.

“A wider nesting distribution will enhance their resilience to changes such as climate change and other pressures,” Scott said.

Scott added that the finding reinforces the importance of managing a network of marine parks to conserve the migratory species, and the footage will be an important education tool to inform the public and to use in schools.