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, WWF said today.
WWF has received numerous reports from Traditional Owner groups north and south of Townsville of large numbers of sick, starving and dead turtles washing up on beaches following the loss of sea grasses after Cyclone Yasi and the floods.
The increase in turtle deaths for April may be more than five times higher this year as compared to the same time last year.
“If these numbers are accurate, then this is a shocking development for the Great Barrier Reef. We urgently need clarification from the Queensland Government on how many turtles are being found dead along the Great Barrier Reef coast,” said WWF’s Conservation on Country Manager Cliff Cobbo.
Turtle hospitals in Townsville 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 traditional owner groups have been so concerned by what they are seeing they will suspend issuing traditional owner hunting permits within their saltwater country.
CEO of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, Phil Rist, said Traditional Owner groups had found large numbers of dead turtles and dugongs in recent weeks.
“Girringun rangers have found numerous starved turtles and dugongs along Girringun saltwater country. Strandings are occurring on a weekly basis,” Mr Rist said.
WWF believes that recent extreme weather events like Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods have combined with additional threats to turtles and their habitats such as entanglement in fishing nets, water pollution and large-scale coastal developments.
“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,” Mr 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.
Two horrors have hit the turtle population at the one time
1. Turtles have almost nothing left to eat!
The destruction of turtle feeding grounds is widespread. As a result sea grass beds are badly affected across an area stretching from the northern tip of Queensland to the New South Wales border.
2. A terrible, deforming virus
The Fibropapilloma virus (FP) is a silent killer affecting turtle populations, especially green turtles.