A project to raise the height of a remote island off far north Queensland to help save the world's most important nesting site for thousands of green sea turtles has saved eggs and hatchlings, researchers say.
Rising sea levels and changes in Raine Island's landscape have caused tidal inundation — killing newly laid eggs that cannot survive under water — and causing as many as 2000 adult turtles in a season to die due to either being trapped or falling from rocky cliffs.
Green sea turtles face this particular threat on Raine Island; worldwide, they are endangered due to a combination of perils — habitat loss, boat strikes, overharvesting and pollution.
As many as 100,000 female green turtles migrate thousands of miles to lay their eggs on Raine Island in a peak breeding season, says Dr. Andy Dunstan of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. "Featured in Sir David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef documentary series, this marine sanctuary is not only the world's largest green turtle rookery, it’s also the most important seabird rookery in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area and home to apex predators, pristine coral reefs and diverse populations of fish and other precious marine life," says Dunstan.
"But all this is in danger. Years of monitoring show that the northern Great Barrier Reef green turtle population is in decline and, without action, is headed for collapse," says Dunstan.
"The Queensland Government, BHP Billiton, the Traditional Owners and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation are collaborating on a five-year, $7.95 million project to protect and restore Raine Island’s critical habitat to ensure the future of key marine species including green turtles and seabirds," says Dunstan.
According to ABC News in Australia, researchers have been reshaping parts of the beach to protect the breeding grounds and used pool fencing to help turtles falling off sand cliffs as part of the Raine Island Recovery Project.
Drones were used to survey the reshaped island's area to help keep it above the flooding level throughout the 2015-2016 nesting season.
Anna Marsden, managing director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, told ABC News that early results marked a positive start for the five-year project. "We believe, even since last season just gone, we've saved 400 sea turtles, just by putting up small bits of fences to stop them falling over just tiny little sand cliffs."
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