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Pendoley Environmental discovers flatback turtle feeding grounds in W.A.

Little is known about the flatback turtle, and the species is listed as ‘data deficient’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Paul Whittock and Dr Kellie Pendoley of Pendoley Environmental, in collaboration with Dr Mark Hamann of James Cook University, have located previously unknown foraging areas for flatback sea turtles in Western Australia. Threats within foraging areas can compromise populations, and protection and conservation in these areas is paramount to the species survival.

The publication in the Journal of Experimental Biology describes the travels of 66 turtles satellite tracked from rookeries at Barrow Island, Thevenard Island, Mundabullangana, and Port Hedland, once nesting was complete.

The turtles travelled to one of five widely dispersed foraging areas on the North West Shelf, each hosting significant numbers of reproductive age flatback turtles from multiple different rookeries.

  • Flatback turtles travelled an average of 600 km from their nesting site to their foraging areas typically over 60 km from the mainland coastline in water depths < 40 m.
  • The longest migration was 2500 km from Port Hedland to the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland State waters.
  • There was little overlap between foraging areas and fishery zone boundaries (Northern Prawn Fishery, 12.5 %, North West Slope Trawl Fishery < 1 %, Pilbara Trawl Fishery 4.5 %).
  • There was a 70 % overlap of foraging areas with areas zoned for current or potential resource sector (mining, oil and gas) activity.
  • There was 48 % overlap of foraging areas with existing protected marine reserves. However, two of the five foraging areas (Quondong Point and west of Thevenard Island) were situated outside marine reserve boundaries and are therefore not protected by legislation.

Flexible foraging: Post-nesting flatback turtles on the Australian continental shelf. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, Volume 477, April 2016, Pages 112-119
Paul A. Whittock, Kellie L. Pendoley, Mark Hamann

Download the article for free from Science Direct for the next 50 days

For further information on the tracking project, flatback sea turtles in Western Australia, or other projects conducted by Pendoley Environmental contact Paul Whittock at