Fifty turtle cages have been donated to the Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Management Rangers (Pormpuraaw Rangers) that will assist in the survival of the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles.

The cages donated by Penrith NSW businesses, Hickey’s Metal Fabrication and Specialised Break and Clutch Service, will enable turtle eggs and hatchlings to be protected against feral pigs.

The Pormpuraaw Rangers are one of five First Nations Ranger groups that make up the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) which carry out the Western Cape York turtle conservation program.

The program aims to protect populations of nesting marine turtles which are threatened with extinction and protected under State and Federal legislation.

The Olive Ridley turtle, Flatback turtle and the Hawksbill turtle are all protected by WCTTAA across seven beaches.

WCTTAA Coordinator, Kerri Woodcock, said the cages enable the Rangers better outcomes when working against the Olive Ridley turtle’s biggest threat – feral pigs.

“We have been doing this culling program and it’s going well, but if you don’t get every single pig, that one pig that is left can wipe out a heap of nests. There is this one species of turtle, the Olive Ridley, that lay quite shallow nests, so they are particularly threatened,” Woodcock said.

“Pormpuraaw Rangers designed these cage specifications and everything and started putting them on. They have been using their cages, but now looking after two beaches they haven’t had enough cages to cover all nests.

“There was this connection made so that we needed 50 extra cages which meant we wouldn’t be short in protecting the nests, having these cages available it means more nests and turtles are protected.”

The cages will help protect Olive Ridley turtles from feral pigs and other predators. Photo supplied by Cape York NRM.

WCTTAA began in 2013 in response to government noting that most turtle nests on the Western Cape were being destroyed by pigs.

The Rangers employ various culls, both aerial culls and ground culls, and also monitor other predators such as dogs and goannas.

The program has seen significant results such as the reduction of predation rate of marine turtles, the annual continuation of predator control programs, the installation and designing of nest protection cages and the production of a documentary that screened across the Western Cape.

It also raises awareness and provides training opportunities for local community whilst compiling data for the Rangers to implement into land and sea management practices.

“A lot of it is also about community engagement and education. It is really important for the Rangers that they are the ones doing it on their own Country,” Woodcock said.

“This is owned by the community, the data is owned by them, when we do the end of year data, they get that as they are managing the populations. They have the say of what happens on those beaches, and that is the value of the program.”

“This threatened species recovery program is being run and delivered by Traditional Owners on their own Country.”

Feral pigs are just one of the many dangers threatening Olive Ridley turtle populations along the Western Cape.

“Western Cape is the only place that Olive Ridley [turtles] nest in Queensland … There are so many threats to these guys, marine debris and climate change, one thing after another, so what can we do while they are on our beaches?

“We are still figuring things out, the biggest threat in climate change is the feminisation of the population. The sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature of the sand [the egg] is incubated in. The warmer the sand, the more females, the cooler the sand, the more males.

“As the sand temperatures are warming up, you get more and more female turtles … sand temperatures are one thing, but also the disappearing of beaches and the loss of nesting habitats is another too.”

With program funding ending in June 2020, Woodcock is calling for support.

“I love being out on the beach with the Rangers, but I love being part of a program that is led by these guys. I can see the immeasurable change we make; you can see the change happening.”

“The stuff we are doing now, we won’t see the benefit of that for 20 years, it takes turtles that long to get to breeding age. It is a long-term program, but it is so great to see it happening in the community and see it driven by community – it’s so special to be a part of that.”

For those wanting to support the program, contact WCTTAA at kerri.woodcock@capeyorknrm.com.au.

By Rachael Knowles