Pilbara study shows jetties a danger zone for flatback turtle hatchlings

Shannon BeattiePilbara News
A new flatback turtle hatchling.
Camera IconA new flatback turtle hatchling. Credit: Dale Cotton

A recent study has revealed turtle hatchlings entering the ocean close to jetties have a high likelihood of being eaten.

The study, published in Biological Conservation, tracked flatback turtle hatchlings on Thevenard Island off the coast of Onslow and found structures such as jetties are an attractive shelter for fish waiting for an easy meal.

Study co-author Michele Thums said it was normal for turtle hatchlings to swim quickly in a straight line away from the beach, out to the relative safety of the open ocean.

“However, the baby turtles we tracked behaved differently by swimming parallel to the beach, and many of them resided under the jetty during the day,” she said.

“This is when we realised we were no longer tracking swimming hatchlings, but tagged hatchlings inside the stomach of the fish that ate them.”

Lead author Phillipa Wilson said the study provided evidence that jetties near turtle nesting beaches increased the predation of turtle hatchlings.

“Nearly three-quarters of the hatchlings entering the sea for the first time were taken by fish while still close to shore,” she said.

“This means that baby turtles were seven times more likely to be preyed upon than at a beach nearby with no jetty.”

Flatback turtles only nest on Australian beaches and are classified as vulnerable by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions marine scientist Scott Whiting said this research would assist decision making around coastal developments near turtle-nesting beaches.

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