Dugong and turtle strandings
Floods and cyclones of 2011, on top of several years of harsh wet seasons, have taken their toll on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park's seagrass beds, the main food source for dugong and turtle.
As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of dugong and turtle deaths in the southern Great Barrier Reef (south of Port Douglas).
At the end of 2011, there were 187 dugong strandings, compared with 73 for 2010, 48 for 2009 and 36 for 2008 over the same period.
There were 1460 reports of turtle strandings (including 288 alive), compared with 821 in 2010, 931 in 2009 and 799 in 2008 over the same period.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is took this situation very seriously and we implemented a range of measures to minimise the impacts on seagrass meadows and dugongs and marine turtles.
In anticipation of an increase in marine strandings as a result of the extreme weather events, the GBRMPA worked with dugong and turtle experts early in 2011 to develop a response plan. The advice from the experts at that time was that there was limited scope to take short-term action given the scale of seagrass loss. Nevertheless, it was considered that where actions could be taken they should be pursued.
The range of management responses that were put in place in response to seagrass loss and the strandings included:
- Continued implementation of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, including the $200 million Reef Rescue Program, as the most critical action. The program works to improve water quality which will provide seagrass beds with the best possible chance for recovery.
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority worked with the former Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM – now Department of Environment and Heritage Protection) to identify strandings hotspots. These will occur as dugong and turtle go into new areas in search of food.
- Hotspots for net-related deaths from incidental capture were identified in Bowling Green Bay (near Townsville) and near the Boyne River at Gladstone. GBRMPA worked with the former Fisheries Queensland (now Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) and commercial fishermen to identify ways to manage impacts. These included:
- GBRMPA implementing regulations in late 2011 to modify netting practices in Bowling Green Bay
- Queensland implemented temporary changes to netting practices in the Boyne River.
- Many Traditional Owner groups in affected areas decided not to hunt until the full impacts are understood.
- As a key outcome of the intergovernmental Dugong Taskforce, $5 million in funding was provided to the Queensland Government to focus on measures to improve dugong and sea country management by Traditional Owners along the Queensland coast.
- The establishment of Dugong Protection Areas in the mid 1990s, and further protection afforded by the zoning implemented in 2003 had stabilized the declining ‘urban coast’ dugong population. This is the population that has once again been impacted, this time by the flooding and cyclone damage to seagrasses.
- In the northern Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere around northern Australia the dugong population remains healthy.
- The green turtle population in the southern Great Barrier Reef has been increasing at about 3.8 per cent per year over the last 45 years, and the current levels of mortalities are within sustainable limits for the population to be able to recover.
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(1300 264 625)
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