Turtle Research in Shark Bay
Female turtle nesting at Turtle Bay, Dirk Hartog Island
Michael Roache / WWF
More than 6,000 marine turtles live in Shark Bay, including two globally endangered species, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Research projects have uncovered much about the ecology of these species, their diet and habitat, and their role in the Shark Bay marine food web. One major project is the ongoing monitoring of the Bay’s loggerhead turtle population. Shark Bay is one of Australia’s most important nesting areas for loggerhead turtles, and a greater understanding of their behaviour, breeding ecology and survival rates will contribute to the species’ conservation.
Since 1994 a research program has been monitoring the size and health of Shark Bay’s loggerhead turtle population. The research is conducted at Turtle Bay, on the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island. Assisted by volunteers, researchers observe egg-laying and record, measure and tag all the nesting turtles. Some years almost 600 females are recorded!
- By monitoring the population, researchers can learn more about turtle survival rates; migration; breeding success; and the recruitment of newly mature turtles into the breeding population.
- Because turtles take more than 30 years to reach maturity, nest every 3–5 years and can live more than 100 years, long-term study can help researchers understand turtle lifecycle and identify regular patterns of behaviour – as well as unexpected events.
- Research also helps determine the importance of Western Australian nesting sites to the global survival of the species.
Findings from the monitoring program will ultimately lead to better management
decisions to meet the species’ conservation needs.
Taking turtle measurements - Dirk Hartog Island
Loggerhead turtle monitoring cannot be done without the financial and physical support provided by volunteers. Research trips to Turtle Bay are a regular feature of LANDSCOPE Expeditions, a program offered by the Department of Environment and Conservation in association with UWA Extension, a department of the University of Western Australia.
You can find research papers on Shark Bay’s turtles here.