The West

Researchers study a perilous fight for life
Researchers study a perilous fight for life

Mother Nature doesn’t favour the thousands of baby turtles that hatch at Cape Domett, one of Australia’s biggest flatback turtle rookeries on the Kimberley coast.

Those that make it out of their nests in the sand must avoid dingoes, birds and crocodiles on their perilous journey to the water’s edge.

Every year up to 7000 female turtles travel hundreds of kilometres from their feeding grounds to nest on the 2km stretch of idyllic coastline.

Due to its isolated location, which is accessible only by boat or helicopter, the size and significance of the rookery was not discovered until 2006, and only short-term data on the population is available.

DEC East Kimberley conservation officer Allan Thompson is leading a team of researchers surveying the number of turtles nesting, how many eggs they lay and how many of the hatchlings survive the nest.

He said female turtles laid an average of 52 eggs, of which between 40 and 45 would survive in the nest before fleeing to the sea.

“Don’t come back as a baby turtle, they have a hard life,” he said.

“Most of them don’t even make it off the beach if they hatch.

“There is major bird predation, entire nests will get eaten by birds as they come out of the nest.”

While the hatchlings fought for survival, Mr Thompson said researchers camped at the beach were facing challenges of their own, with curious crocodiles up to 11 feet long lurking on the water’s edge.

“This afternoon we are going to have to shift our camp into the full sun because of the high tides coming up,” he said.

“There are crocs on the beach in the evening.

“A crocodile will walk 50 to 80 metres up the beach and predate turtles.”

Cape Domett is one of a handful of flat-back turtle rookeries in WA.

Unlike populations which nest over a period of weeks in the West Kimberley, the Cape Domett turtles lay their eggs over more than four months, making research more difficult.

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