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News about Climate Change and our Planet

Indigenous rangers warn sea level and temperature rises caused by climate change are killing remote Northern Territory turtles - ABC News

Indigenous rangers warn sea level and temperature rises caused by climate change are killing remote Northern Territory turtles – ABC News

Tiwi Islands Indigenous marine ranger supervisor James De Santis has been monitoring the remote coastline of his home for 30 years.

In this time, he said he has seen the impact climate change is having on his home.

Rising sea levels is one such impact that threatens the endangered nesting Olive Ridley turtles he’s working to protect.

“The sea level is rising, the turtles are laying their nest and then it is drowning and there is no chance of the eggs hatching,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot of difference in over 30 years, not just being a ranger, being a local, and there’s a big change.”

Mr De Santis’s ranger group is one of nine that share observations and strategies on how to protect biodiversity hotspots along the NT coast.

They met in Darwin earlier this week to share their results so far.

“Our turtle eggs are getting drowned, so we’ve actually had to relocate these eggs onto higher ground,” Mr De Santis told the group.

Two women sit on a boat with a turtle, which has a satellite tracker on its back
Cynthia Cooper (right) and colleagues are tagging turtles to help rangers track and study them.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Garngi ranger Cynthia Cooper said she is proud to be working on Croker Island, off the coast of northern Arnhem Land, to protect animals from marine rubbish and abandoned nets.

“We’re worried they’re getting hurt by marine debris and ghost nets, so we are removing those,” she said.

Ms Cooper said she was also worried that the rising sea level is eroding the coast and killing stands of old trees.

“The sea level is rising and some of the casuarina trees are being washed away now because of the climate change, I’m pretty worried that it will keep rising,” she said.

“Even thinking about our new generation of young people — what’s going to happen to them when they grow up?

“And what’s going to happen to the food chain?”

‘They might not even come back’

Garig Gunak Barlu National Park ranger Dylan Cooper has been observing the sea turtle nest temperatures rising on the Cobourg Peninsula, 570km north-east of Darwin, since 2015.

He and his colleagues have observed that many are now over 29C, which turns all the eggs female.

Some have reached 35C.

At this temperature the eggs cook and die.

Two men in ranger outfits stand next to each other in a meeting room.
Garig Gunak Barlu National Park ranger Robert Risk (left) and Dylan Cooper (right) hold fears for the future of marine animals.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

“I’m worried this is going to affect their numbers. They might not even come back again,” Mr Cooper said.

“It’s scary.”

The ranger groups are considering whether they could build shade structures over nests, a method that has been used in other countries including Papua New Guinea.

Mr Cooper’s colleague Robert Risk said they were protecting as many nests as they could with special pyramid-shaped cages to stop goannas and dingoes from digging them up.

“The protective cages are a game-changer really, especially for the Olive Ridleys and Hawksbills because there are not many places for them to come up and nest,” Mr Risk said.

He said rising sea levels on the Cobourg Peninsula were turning freshwater wetlands salty.

“I’ve noticed swampy areas where magpie geese nest — those swamps are seeing salt intrusion which is killing the Melaleuca trees.”

Rangers work together to push for change

Mr Risk said he hoped the groups’ findings would encourage governments to provide more funding.

“I think if we can get that funding, hopefully we can actually start recording hard data and that way we can actually see the changes,” he said. 

“And maybe [see] whether what we’re doing to try to protect these species is slowing down that process.”

Some plastic bottles and other marine rubbish strewn on a sandy beach
Rising oceans and hotter temperatures triggered by climate change are impacting on the nests of turtles in the NT.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

The rangers are working with researchers from universities in the NT, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland, including Dr Carol Palmer from Charles Darwin University.

“Everyone has mentioned climate change, sea level rise and sea temperature rise during these discussions,” she said. 

“So I think we’ve really got to focus on that across our remote areas and record that data because we need it right now.”


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