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Marine turtle recovery newsletter

5th Edition
Department of the Environment and Heritage, February 2006


Illustration of turtle

Welcome to the 5th edition of the Marine Turtle Recovery Newsletter

The Australian Government, on behalf of the National Turtle Recovery Group, produces this newsletter to provide an informative update on Australian and international conservation efforts and research on marine turtles.

Please feel free to pass this website ( on to those who may be interested.

Thank you for your interest in the conservation of these wonderful creatures, and please send in any ideas, feedback or suggestions for future articles to

Donna Kwan
Chairman of the National Turtle Recovery Group

CMS Nairobi - Australia fights for protection of marine species

Good news for turtles and dugong from the latest meeting of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS ) held recently in Nairobi, Kenya, from 20-25 November 2005.

Australia led the way in advancing the protection of species such as marine turtles, dugong, whales, sharks and seabirds at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to CMS.

Australia, with support from New Zealand and Samoa, successfully called for the development of a regional conservation arrangement for marine turtles in the Pacific region. It is expected that the inaugural meeting of Pacific states to start developing the text of the arrangement will take place in the first half of 2006.

At the meeting Australia also reported on progress in developing a regional dugong conservation arrangement and it is hoped that a second meeting on the development of the arrangement will be held in the first half of 2006.

Australia's continued implementation of several existing CMS conservation arrangements were highlighted, including the South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding (IOSEA MoU) which aims to protect marine turtles and their habitat in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian region.

The Convention on Migratory Species is an intergovernmental convention with 92 Parties. It aims to protect migratory species across their ranges by developing and implementing regional conservation arrangements.

New Marine Turtle Recovery Plan

The Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage has reviewed and redrafted the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia. The new draft plan, released for public comment, is divided into two separate documents — an ‘Issues Paper’ and a ‘Recovery Plan’.

The Issues Paper will be a living document, where the outcomes of new research can be incorporated. This will allow it to be updated with current research and knowledge of biology, threats and conservation.

The Recovery Plan will be a 5-year statutory document under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), and will identify actions aimed at assisting the recovery of the species.

Comments on the draft Recovery Plan are due by 21 March 2006. Both the draft Recovery Plan and Issues Paper can be found on the DEH website at:

Release of the National Partnership Approach

Following receipt of over 30 submissions from individuals, researchers and organisations, the final draft document “Sustainable Harvest of Marine Turtles and Dugongs in Australia – a National Partnership Approach 2005” (the National Partnership Approach), was submitted to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (NRMMC) on 27 October 2005, and was endorsed by the NRMMC.

The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (NRMMC) consists of the Australian/State/Territory and New Zealand government ministers responsible for primary industries, natural resources, environment and water policy.

The National Partnership Approach contains 5 goals supported by a number of objectives and also outlines possible activities that could be used to further develop and implement it.

These goals are:

  1. Improve the information base available to Indigenous communities for managing the sustainable harvest of turtles and dugongs.
  2. Respect for Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge and management.
  3. Improve education and awareness.
  4. Identify the economic, social and cultural factors that may contribute to unsustainable harvest levels and identify and implement measures to address them.
  5. Protect sea country resources.

A key element of the National Partnership Approach is the proposed Partnership body which will include representatives from Indigenous communities and relevant State, Territory and Australian Governments agencies. The Partnership will replace the MACC Taskforce, which developed the draft Approach, and will play an important role in building momentum on the further development and implementation of the Approach.

The Partnership body is expected to:

The NRMMC also agreed to the following text being incorporated in its Communiqué:

"The National Partnership Approach provides a basis for further work to ensure that harvest of turtles and dugongs is sustainable by outlining how governments and Indigenous communities can work more closely together to increase the effectiveness of the protection and conservation of dugongs and turtles. The National Partnership Approach is also intended to contribute to the conservation of turtles and dugong and ensure the important economic, spiritual and cultural relationships Indigenous people have with these animals are maintained for future generations."

The NRMMC urged that the National Partnership Approach be brought into operation as a matter of priority.  Moving quickly to establish the Partnership body will be crucial to get momentum on all aspects of the Approach.  DEH has already established a Secretariat and the formation of the Partnership is now the main priority. 

The National Partnership Approach document can be obtained at the following website:

International Smart Gear Competition

A SMART idea to reduce bycatch could net you $25,000US! Entries due March 15, 2006  
World Wildlife Fund is calling on fishermen, gear technologists, engineers, students, inventors and anyone with creative flair to submit their ideas for fishing gear designs that will reduce bycatch – the accidental catch and related deaths of marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and non-target fish species in fishing gears such as nets and longlines.

The second International Smart Gear Competition will award a $25 000 grand prize and two $5 000 runner-up prizes to the designs judged to be the most practical, cost-effective methods for reducing bycatch.

Conventional fishing gear often does not allow users to selectively target their catch. As a result, non-target fish species, marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and non-target fish species are caught and sometimes killed. More than 20 million metric tons – approximately 25 percent of what is caught in the course of fishing each year – is thrown over the sides of fishing boats dead or dying. Bycatch is the leading threat to many species of endangered marine mammals, sea turtles and sea birds around the world.

“The WWF International Smart Gear Competition aims to stop one of the biggest threats to healthy marine ecosystems and related economic losses to fishermen,” said Ginette Hemley, vice president, species conservation, World Wildlife Fund.

“We hope this competition is able to harness the creativity and ingenuity of fishermen, scientists and the public to reduce the waste caused by unselective gear”.

Last year, WWF awarded three new practical solutions: a system for keeping longlines away from sea turtles, devised by a former high-school biology teacher and commercial fisherman; changes to the chemical properties of fishing ropes and nets, proposed by a North American team; and modified trawls to reduce bycatch of undersized shrimp and fish, developed by a team of Indian scientists familiar with the challenges of changing fishing practices and technologies in a developing country.

The winner of the WWF International Smart Gear Competition will be decided by a diverse set of judges, including fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world.

To enter, and to view official rules and entry conditions, go to Entries close on 15 March, 2006.

Towards Sustainable Management of Dugong and Turtle Tourism

Article by William Hyams, Dr Alastair Birtles & Matt Curnock

Divers approaching a green turtle in the Northern GBR.Image courtesy of Undersea Explorer

Divers approaching a green turtle in the Northern GBR.Image courtesy of Undersea Explorer

The goal of ensuring that the sustainable management of marine wildlife tourism also contributes to the recovery and long term conservation of Australia’s dugongs and marine turtles has been brought a step closer by the successful completion of Phase II of the Towards Sustainable Management of Dugong and Turtle Tourism Project in October 2005 funded by the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT).

Under the leadership of James Cook University’s Dr Alastair Birtles, a research team drawn from James Cook University (JCU), the Museum of Tropical Queensland (MTQ), Smyth & Bahrdt Consultants, the tourism industry (Undersea Explorer) and wildlife and protected area agencies (Queensland Environmental Protection Agency (QEPA), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA ) and the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM )) have successfully refined and evaluated draft national guidelines for tourism interactions with these iconic animals.

A key feature of the project has been the commitment to a research process facilitating close stakeholder collaboration during all phases. This transparent approach to the development of a national Code of Practice has built upon the communication networks developed during Phase I, which brought together 50 experts from different stakeholder groups around Australia, in a Dugong and Turtle Tourism Planning Workshop held at JCU in Townsville in May 2004.

The innovative use of an interactive Online Workshop, has allowed more than 180 Project Participants from around Australia and overseas to remain informed about the progress of the project, and strengthened the breadth of ownership over the resulting Code of Practice for the Sustainable Management of Dugong and Marine Turtle Tourism in Australia.

The Code of Practice comprises specific Codes of Conduct for different types of interactions (i.e. aircraft, beach-based, vessel-based and in-water interactions). It is intended that all users of beaches and coastal waters of northern Australia will adopt these Codes of Conduct, wherever dugongs and marine turtles occur. Commercial tourism operators will have a particular responsibility in overseeing their adoption and communicating them to tourists and other users.

To ensure an adaptive approach to sustainable management, the Code of Practice also includes broader recommendations for local councils, protected area and wildlife managers and tour operators, to address complex sustainability issues in partnership with Traditional Owners, researchers, conservation NGOs, local communities and other stakeholders. Particular attention has been given to involving Traditional Owners in the management of dugong and marine turtle tourism, to ensure that it respects their inherited cultural rights and responsibilities toward their Sea Country. This issue is recognised within specific Best Practice Guidelines for Engaging with Indigenous Traditional Owners in the Planning and Management of Dugong and Turtle Tourism.

Phase I of the project had explicitly recognised the need for species, location and industry specific elements to such Codes of Conduct. Field evaluations of the draft versions of the Code of Practice were conducted at four study sites around Australia (Mon Repos, Cardwell-Hinchinbrook & the Northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Queensland and Shark Bay in Western Australia).

The project team explored what provisions could apply nationally and which could or should be decided at a regional or local level. 63 Key Informants from the four study sites representing the tourism industry, protected area and wildlife management agencies, researchers, members of conservation NGOs, members of the local community and Traditional Owners, each with specific knowledge of their respective location and useful ideas for improving the Code of Practice, were interviewed during March-July 2005.

To obtain an insight into the perceptions of tourists toward specific provisions within the Draft Codes of Conduct, Visitor Surveys were distributed at Mon Repos and on four live-aboard dive vessels operating in the Cairns and Far Northern Sections of the Great Barrier Reef Samples of 683 and 243 visitor questionnaires were obtained for these sites respectively, with results indicating a high level of support for the relevant management provisions, while also providing valuable feedback to refine the Codes of Conduct.

Phase II of the Project was completed on 31 October 2005 with the submission of the Phase II Final Report and new Code of Practice to the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH). There are now many exciting possibilities for this Code of Practice to underpin a nationally consistent and world’s best practice approach to dugong and turtle tourism. Included within the final report was a recommendation for the formal adoption of the Codes of Conduct by DEH as minimum national standards for turtle and dugong watching, both commercially and recreationally.

It is hoped that the forging of strong cross-regional communication amongst dugong and turtle tourism stakeholders will continue to expand awareness of the Code of Practice across Australia, presenting additional opportunities for refining the Code of Practice and realising its national implementation in the coming years through a possible Phase III.

A forthcoming collaboration with the NHT-funded project, Community Turtle Conservation through Cross-Regional Collaboration, to evaluate the Code of Practice on the turtle nesting beaches of the Ningaloo region of Western Australia in 2005/6, will also contribute to this goal.

The successful completion of a multi-agency collaborative venture such as this is only possible with the support of many individuals and organisations. The project team would like to thank everyone involved for supporting the development of an ecologically sustainable turtle and dugong tourism industry in Australia.

Both the Phase II Final Report to DEH and the Code of Practice for the Sustainable Management of Dugong and Marine Turtle Tourism in Australia are available for downloading at:

For more information please contact Matt Curnock (Project Manager)
ph: 07 4781 5428) or visit the website:

Torres Strait Turtle Tracking Project

School children from the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and members of the Hammond Island community watch Toni, an adult female green turtle, crawl back into the ocean equipped with her satellite tag.

School children from the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and members of the Hammond Island community watch "Toni", an adult female green turtle, crawl back into the ocean equipped with her satellite tag.

With funding from Natural Heritage Trust (NHT), CRC Torres Strait and James Cook University have just completed a project to “raise Indigenous community awareness and promote on-ground recovery activities for marine turtle and dugongs in Torres Strait”.

A significant component of the project was to build the capacity of local communities to undertake marine turtle monitoring surveys. To achieve this we worked mainly with the Hammond Island Community Council and the Tawoy, Rose Hill, Aplin, Quarantine and Waiben (TRAQW) Community Council.

Islanders from these councils were:

In addition, we employed local Indigenous people to assist with all of the on-ground activities. Most importantly this also enabled us to work closely with the communities and we were able to learn about marine turtles from an Indigenous Torres Strait Islander’s perspective, and their wishes and aspirations regarding involvement in future marine turtle projects.

The satellite telemetry was a very successful component of the project. We involved two schools in the whole project (one on Hammond Island and one on Thursday Island) and the children named all the turtles before watching them swim off into the depths of Torres Strait.

All four of the turtles tracked were breeding this summer. The adult male (Crush) has remained close to Thursday Island, two females (Toni and Abbygail) migrated to Moulter Cay in the northern GBR for nesting and the fourth turtle (Waru) migrated to Raine Island in the northern GBR for nesting. Quite fortuitously, on the last night of their annual turtle tagging trip Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers saw Waru attempting to nest at Raine Island.

From a community perspective we had great support for the tracking project. Local Islanders have been very interested and many groups have religiously followed the turtle’s movements. To follow the turtle’s tracks go to This website has been a great success and over 2000 hits have been made over the last 2 months!

For more information please contact:
Dr Mark Hamann
Post Doctoral Research Fellow
Tropical Environment Studies & Geography James Cook University,
Townsville, Queensland 4811

Dugong and Marine Turtle Project - NAILSMA

Article by Rod Kennett in Kantri Laif Issue2, Wet Issue 2005

Traditional Owners from the Kimberley, Top End of the Northern Territory, southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York and the Torres Strait are joining forces to develop community-driven approaches to the sustainable management of marine turtles and dugongs in northern Australia.

Coordinated by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), the Dugong and Marine Turtle project takes a fresh approach to dugong and turtle management, by ensuring that Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities are driving research and management activities.

Project partners are the Kimberley Land Council, Northern Land Council, Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Cape York Balkanu Development Corporation and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. These organisations will oversee the delivery of the project in selected ‘pilot’ or ‘trial’ communities in their regions.

A Technical Reference Group (TRG) of researchers, government, non-government and industry representatives will provide professional advice and expertise on dugong and marine turtles and management issues. With funding of $3.8 million over 2.5 years from the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust, and cash and in-kind contributions from project partners and participating communities of over $3 million, the project represents a substantial commitment by all involved.

The project began in January 2005 and the first meeting of project partners and the TRG was held in February 2005 in Darwin. At this meeting people discussed Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives on dugong and turtle management and the aims and objectives of the project. It marked the start of the project planning phase in which project partners worked with Traditional Owners to develop Regional Activity Plans (RAPs).

The RAPs determine how the project will be delivered on the ground, identifying Traditional Owners needs and aspirations, the issues and threats facing dugong and turtle management, and the management and research activities that communities wish to undertake during the project. Development and revision of the RAPs was assisted by TRG members who provided technical and scientific advice and comments. Revised RAPs were presented and discussed at the second meeting of the project partners and TRG held in July in Cairns.

At the July meeting, project partners worked together to ensure that funding was allocated fairly taking into account the needs and circumstances of each partner and participating communities.

This was particularly challenging because the strong community interest in the project (and high costs of working in remote areas) meant that collectively partners were asking for twice the amount available.

One of the meeting participants described the meeting as:

“A forum generously garnished with mutual respect and a desire to reach practical agreement and resolution of very difficult issues”.

Despite the many different backgrounds and locations of the people and communities involved in the project, many similar issues and activities were identified. All communities identified the need to record and value Indigenous Knowledge and customary practice as a basis of developing sustainable management arrangements.

Participants also wanted to actively manage and monitor dugong and turtle populations and habitats, as well as to work with other Indigenous people and scientists to improve understanding of the many threats and issues faced by dugong and turtle, including Indigenous hunting.

Across northern Australia, NAILSMA will work with project partners to develop standardised ways of recording and storing information, and to conduct research projects such as a study of the cultural and economic importance of dugongs and turtles to Indigenous livelihoods.

By identifying and creating opportunities for training and for exchange visits between participating communities from different regions, the NAILSMA project will help people learn and share new ideas, knowledge and experiences. Communication activities such as videos, media stories, art competitions and the soon to be launched NAILSMA website will promote communication amongst partners and improve public understanding of the rights, roles, responsibilities and achievements of Indigenous people in managing dugong and marine turtles.

The project planning phase wound up in late 2005, following formal approval of the RAPs by the NHT Joint Steering Committee and the launch of onground activities in early 2006.

NAILSMA, the Project Partners and communities believe that by working together they can contribute to a long term vision of healthy and sustainable populations of dugong and marine turtles that support Indigenous livelihoods across north Australia.

For more information please contact: Dr Rod Kennett,
Project Coordinator,
Tel. (08) 8946 6271

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