Australia is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle species – green, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and the flatback turtle, a species that nests only on our shores. All species are protected in Australian waters, and are classified as either ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
Australian marine turtles are found largely in the north. They live in many different habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves in tropical regions.
While marine turtles spend most of their life in the sea, the females come ashore during the breeding season on islands and some mainland areas to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. Males almost never return to land once hatched. After the breeding season, the animals migrate to feeding grounds which can be hundreds to thousands of kilometers away.
Marine turtles face multiple threats in the ocean and on land, at all stages of their life cycle. Pollution (including light pollution and the ingestion of and entanglement in marine debris), changes to habitats from coastal development, fisheries bycatch, over-collecting of turtles and eggs, predation of eggs and hatchlings by introduced species such as foxes and feral pigs and climate change are all having a large impact on the world's turtles.
Our research helps managers better understand the impact of human activities on turtles at different life stages to assist in their protection.
AIMS researchers focus on mapping the areas used by marine turtles in north-west Australia, especially important areas such as breeding grounds, feeding grounds and migration paths. This helps identify areas of high risk for turtles, where human activity and turtles overlap. We do this by tracking adult turtles via satellite transmitters attached to the turtles and conducting sea floor surveys to learn more about what they eat.
Using tiny sound-emitting (acoustic) transmitters on baby turtles, we are also investigating how artificial lights impact their behaviour and movement in their first hours in the ocean.