A hawksbill turtle swimming through a reef, Banda Neira, Indonesia © Jürgen Freund / WWF

A hawksbill turtle swimming through a reef, Banda Neira, Indonesia © Jürgen Freund / WWF

Experts hold crisis meeting on Hawksbill turtle decline in northern Australia

25 Aug 2016

Keywords
  • coral triangle
  • marine turtles

A two day crisis meeting kicks off in Darwin today to address the alarming decline of hawksbill turtles across the Indo-Pacific region.

Participants from Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Timor-Leste are attending the workshop, convened by WWF-Australia.

“Leading scientists agree we are at a crisis point. Hawksbill experts from Australia and Melanesia will share information and start work on a plan to halt the decline of these beautiful turtles,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Christine Hof.

 

The decline
After millions of hawksbills were killed globally for their colourful shells, the northern Great Barrier Reef was left with one of the few remaining large populations in the world.

The highest-density nesting site in the northern GBR is Milman Island, where turtle numbers have been studied for 25 years.

An initial analysis of ten years of data indicated that hawksbill numbers at Milman Island were declining by 3 to 4% per year and scientists were predicting that 90% of Great Barrier Reef hawksbills would be gone by 2020. 

 

Crunching the data

Ongoing analysis of the data suggests the decline at Milman Island has almost doubled to 6.7% per year but also indicates the 90% decline may not be reached until 2040 or beyond. 

“The current rate of decline remains unsustainable and requires urgent action. That’s because it takes about 30 years for a hawksbill to reach breeding age. Strategies we put in place now will take decades to pay off,” Ms Hof said.    

 

Status of Hawksbill turtle
On 13 August 2016, Queensland Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles announced that the Nature Conservation Act listing of the hawksbill turtle would be upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list already categorises the hawksbill as Critically Endangered.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has banned the tortoiseshell trade.

 

Regional response required
Studies have shown that Hawksbills can travel from Australia to places such as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Indonesia to nest and forage and vice versa. 

“Because hawksbills can travel great distances we need both local and regional scale actions to ensure we halt and reverse their decline. We have a shared responsibility to bring this species back from the brink,” said Ms Hof. 
Threats

The major threats to hawksbill turtles are loss of foraging habitat, climate change, incidental capture in fishing gear, entanglement in abandoned nets, unsustainable take of eggs, and poaching to supply the black market tortoiseshell trade.

WWF-Australia and the Sea Turtle Foundation are sponsoring the workshop.

WWF-Australia Media Contact: Mark Symons, 0411 985 571, msymons@wwf.org.au

© Sian Breen / WWF-Aus

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