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27 March: Shining a light on baby turtle travels

27 March: Shining a light on baby turtle travels


AIMS researcher Michele Thums and AIMS/UWA PhD candidate Phillipa Wilson gluing a small piece of flagging tape to the flatback sea turtle hatchlings in order to follow them as they disperse from shore. Image: Suzanne Long

Light pollution is a reality of urbanised living with potentially lethal consequences for some of its smallest (albeit, temporary) inhabitants, sea turtle hatchlings. Previous research indicates that offshore lights, like those associated with coastal development, can attract turtle hatchlings and cause them to linger in nearshore, predator-rich waters increasing their risk of death.

AIMS scientists, in collaboration with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the University of Western Australia and Pendoley Environmental are currently working on Thevenard Island in northwest Western Australia to examine just what impact artificial lights have on the in-water movement behaviour of flatback turtle hatchlings during their most vulnerable stage of life.

Using the most technologically advanced, compact acoustic tags, scientists are tracking the dispersal of flatback turtle hatchlings as they move through nearshore waters both in the presence and absence of offshore lights and in relation to natural cues such as waves and currents.

A better understanding of the potential impacts of light pollution stemming from, for example, ports, oil rigs and shipping is crucial to assisting stakeholders to effectively manage light sources at existing and planned industrial developments.

Flatback turtles are a unique species of marine turtle. They nest exclusively on northern Australian beaches, with key nesting sites along the coast of Western Australia.  Unfortunately, flatback turtles are believed to face myriad threats in our oceans. This research is part of a broader program to improve our understanding of this vulnerable and data deficient sea turtle species and aims to enable better focused conservation.