Article Index

Marine turtle conservation

Marine turtle populations have declined in many places across the globe.

Threats to their survival include

  • entanglement in fishing nets, fishing lines and marine debris
  • consumption of marine debris
  • boat strikes
  • unsustainable harvesting
  • coastal development
  • disturbance by tourists
  • inappropriate 4WD vehicle use on nesting beaches
  • predation by introduced animals such as foxes and pigs
  • artificial lighting along the coast and on islands
  • sea level rise
  • climate change.

Parks and Wildlife monitors and protects marine turtles with the support of mining companies, fisheries companies, Aboriginal people, the community, the media and others.

  • Parks and Wildlife scientists, field staff and volunteers have engaged in marine turtle research since the late 1980's.
  • Project work has included the
    • tagging and release of tens of thousands of adult female turtles to assist in understanding their nesting habits, site fidelity, breeding longevity and migration patterns 
    • attaching satellite trackers to rehabilitated turtles, adult females and captive-bred hatchlings to monitor their movements
    • interaction with Indigenous people
    • discussions with industry and the involvement of the broader community in development of better environmental management solutions.
flatback measuring volunteers pic liz grant
Volunteers assist with monitoring flatback
turtles on Thevenard Island in the Pilbara.
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

North West Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation

Flatback turtles are the only marine turtle species that nest exclusively in Australia. They are listed as vulnerable under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and as data deficient under the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Flatback turtles were only described as a separate species in 1988 from research undertaken in Queensland.

Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley island and mainland beaches support significant nesting grounds for flatbacks.

The Northwest Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program (NWSFTCP) is a 30-year, $32.5 million program that aims to conserve flatbacks in WA waters, at nesting beaches and throughout their range, which can include Commonwealth, Northern Territory and Queensland jurisdictions.

Research is still needed to define the abundance and distribution of the flatback population of the Northwest Shelf and work being done includes:

  • surveying, monitoring and research
  • reducing interference to key breeding and feeding locations
  • establishing information and education programs.

The NWSFTCP is one of two additional conservation programs required to be delivered by the Gorgon Joint Venture Partners as detailed in the Variation Agreement 2009 to the Barrow Island Act 2003.

pdfNorth West Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program – Strategic Conservation Plan 2014-211.55 MB

Jurabi Turtle Centre
Jurabi Turtle Centre adjacent to
Ningaloo Marine Park
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

Community education

The Jurabi Turtle Centre, 13 kilometres from Exmouth, between Hunters and Mauritius beaches, is adjacent to a popular rookery. The centre, a collaborative project between the Shire of Exmouth and Parks and Wildlife, provides interpretive and educational displays on turtle biology and ecology, turtle viewing advice and ready access to turtle nesting beaches.

A short film on how to observe nesting marine turtles is shown at the Milyering Discovery Centre in Cape Range National Park during the turtle breeding season.

A nationally accredited Turtle Tour Guiding course has been established at Exmouth TAFE. Places are available from September each year with subsequent opportunities to obtain employment in the area. 

Turtle tagging program

Marine turtles are individually marked to provide information about

Loggerhead Turtle
Loggerhead turtle, Dirk Hartog Island
Photo © Kevin Crane
  • migration patterns and geographical ranges
  • inter-nesting and inter-breeding periods
  • clutch sizes, nesting site fidelity
  • changes in nesting population numbers.

Marker tagging programs have been conducted in Western Australian locations since the mid-1980s and continue at Dirk Hartog Island National Park in Shark Bay, Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago, Barrow and Varanus islands off the Pilbara coast, and Cowrie Beach on Mundabullangana Station near Port Hedland.

The department works in partnership with Pilbara Iron, Woodside Energy, Chevron Australia, Apache Energy, The University of Western Australia and Mundabullangana Station.

Community beach-based turtle track monitoring

Community groups in Exmouth, Coral Bay, Wickham and Port Hedland monitor turtle nesting beaches.

Observers walk along defined sections of beach at sunrise every morning during the main nesting season and record:

  • the number of nests for each species
  • the location of the nests
  • the number of false crawls
  • the number of disturbed nests and the potential causes of disturbance.

Data is used to identify key nesting habitats, their relative significance, trends and management issues.

Community programs have several partners—Parks and Wildlife, Cape Conservation Group, WWF Australia, Commonwealth Natural Heritage Trust, Wildlife Link, Coastwest, Care for Hedland Environmental Association, West Pilbara Community Turtle Group, Pilbara Iron, MacMahon, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Threatened Species Network.

Volunteers are invited to assist with all these programs. For more information visit http://www.ningalooturtles.org.au or contact the local community representative:

  • Ningaloo Turtle Program, Exmouth – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Care for Hedland Turtle Program, Port Hedland – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • West Pilbara Turtle Program, Wickham – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Cable Beach and Eco Beach Turtle Monitoring Programs Conservation Volunteers - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Aerial surveys

Aerial surveys along the Ningaloo-Carnarvon coast and along the Pilbara coast between Onslow and Port Hedland, including islands, are used to identify turtle rookeries, show the nesting abundance and indicate numbers.

How can you help?

  • Volunteer with a community based turtle conservation program.
  • Follow the pdfturtle watcher's code of conduct230.85 KB.
  • Avoid driving your vehicle on turtle nesting beaches, as this can compact the sand near nests and create obstructions to emerging hatchlings.
  • Avoid using campfires or any artificial lights on nesting beaches, as this can disorient and disturb nesting turtles and hatchlings.
  • Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags—turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them, eventually starving to death.
  • Throw all your rubbish into the bin—turtles can get caught up in discarded fishing lines, ropes and other debris at sea and on the beach.
  • Do not buy or sell sea turtle products—this creates a demand for products that require hunting and killing turtles.
  • Drive your boat slowly to avoid injuring turtles in the water.
  • Record date, numbers, locations and species of marine turtles seen at sea or nesting.
  • Report all sightings of sick or injured turtles to the local Parks and Wildlife office.
  • Report any tag numbers sighted on turtles to the local Parks and Wildlife office or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Include date, location and information about the turtle—do not remove tags from live marine turtles.