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Greg Hunt MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Flinders

20 January 2006

Satellite tagging of Cocos turtles

Greg Hunt MP, Parliamentary Secretary with ministerial responsibility for Pulu-Keeling National Park today announced that $41,300 of Natural Heritage Trust Funding was currently being used for satellite tagging of turtles on Cocos Island at Pulu Keeling National Park - an important research project that will track the nesting and migratory habits of the internationally endangered Green turtle.

"Green turtles can migrate up to 2500 kilometres and turtles that nest on Cocos Island could actually spend most of their lives as far away as mainland Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka or the Chagos Archipelago.

"Some nesting turtles may move from their nesting beach on North Keeling only as far as the southern atoll where there is abundant food. If that's true, we will need to make sure turtles on the southern atoll are protected to ensure continued nesting on the northern atoll, Mr Hunt said.

The satellite tagging project will be conducted by Rangers and staff from Parks Australia and international environmental research company Biomarine Australia in a bit to discover where nesting Green turtles spend most of their lives.

"Parks Australia Rangers will spend a week at North Keeling Island in Pulu Keeling National Park, walking the beaches at night and measuring all nesting turtles.

"They'll be collecting DNA samples and then gluing satellite devices to the shells of seven nesting females so they can be tracked when they return to the sea.

Every time the turtle surfaces to breathe, the satellite will detect the transmitter. As the batteries last for up to eight months, staff will be able to plot detailed maps of where the turtles go and how long they take to get there," Mr Hunt said.

Turtles nest several times a year. The satellite transmitters will provide information on what the turtles do in between nesting and where they go.

Mr Hunt said that Parks Australia has gathered an impressive body of information on sea turtles over the past six years but the satellite tagging project would further the understanding of the habits of the species.

"We know a lot about the movements of large, internationally significant populations of Green and Hawksbill turtles who come here to feed. But Cocos also has a smaller population of Green turtles who come here to nest - and as yet nothing is known about where these nesting turtles spend most of their lives.

This critical information is required to establish international protocols to protect turtles - both nesting and foraging," Mr Hunt said.

To follow the visit from 1 February 2006.

Media enquiries:
Kristy McSweeney (Mr Hunt's office) 0415 740 722

Note to editors: Photos and map are available.

Commonwealth of Australia