Turtle nesting surveys on Milman Island – led by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science – gave us just a small glimpse of what we might be in for as the climate changes and our weather becomes even more unpredictable.
This year the annual survey ran for 12 weeks to accommodate research into nest cooling being conducted by Melissa Staines of the University of Queensland. Sea Turtle Foundation provided a small grant to Melissa to purchase sand temperature loggers as part of her project, funded by WWF Australia.
During the twelve weeks, we witnessed just what might become the new reality as global temperatures rise and we get an increased number of severe weather events. Several episodes of extreme wind and rain, including a contribution from Cyclone Trevor passing to the south, meant that there was massive beach erosion and loss of nesting habitat.
Rocks that had not been seen for many years were suddenly exposed for all to see. This meant that hatchlings from nests that were laid before the sand loss, faced a very difficult – sometimes impossible – crawl to the sea. Other nests were exposed as sand was removed, killing the baby turtles inside before they could even emerge from their eggs.
The ghosts nets and other debris uncovered as the beach eroded, demonstrate that this is not the first time that so much sand has been lost from parts of the island. However, with climate change rolling across the planet, we have been told to expect more extreme weather events. The hawksbill population nesting on Milman Island is already endangered and may not be able to stand repeated nesting seasons where so many nests are lost to the weather.
Further information regarding Melissa’s work and her results will be released by WWF Australia in the coming months