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No water like home for Gulf sea turtles

Transmitters fitted to green sea turtles, along with genetic testing, show  that the turtles spend most of their lives within the Gulf of Carpentaria
Photo: Rod Kennett

Green turtles are generally known for making long-distance migrations, often covering hundreds or even thousands of kilometres of national and international waters. However, recent studies have shown that green turtles found in the Gulf of Carpentaria are ‘homebodies’—spending their entire lives within the Gulf’s waters.

Researchers from the University of Canberra, Kiki Dethmers and Nancy FitzSimmons, analysed the family history of  green turtles of the Gulf of Carpentaria, by using skin samples that were collected by a number of Indigenous communities.

The genetic results from that research agreed with another study that was jointly undertaken by the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation and Charles Darwin University, which tracked the movements of turtles using satellite radio transmitters.

Both the genetic and tracking results show that green turtles of the Gulf of Carpentaria mate, nest and spend most of their lives within the Gulf, and rarely—if ever—migrate outside of the region. The results from these studies are important for the management of green turtles in the Gulf.

While the harvest of green turtles in Indonesia may have little or no impact on local populations, if the number of green turtle decline in the Gulf, it may take many years (even hundreds) before new turtles arrive from outside waters and rebuild the population. Most importantly, it means that work currently being undertaken by Indigenous communities in the Gulf, such as the Dugong and Marine Turtle Project (North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance) and the Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme, will have direct benefits for local green turtle populations and the people who depend on them. — Sasha Kiessling

From Kantri Laif, Issue 3, 2007.


Green turtles in the Gulf of Carpentaria
Research flyer from the Institute of Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, in collaboration with NAILSMA [pdf 107.2 kb]