With the effects of climate change putting many species at risk, a new project has been developed in the Torres Strait to minimise impacts on the region’s turtle population.

The Beach Shade Tree project—currently underway on Erub and Mer islands—aims to reduce climate risk for turtles through the propagation of shade and fruit trees.

The project is facilitated by the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) Environmental Management Program and funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

TSRA Chairperson, Mr Napau Pedro Stephen, said the Torres Strait is particularly important for turtles nationally and internationally, especially Green, Flatback and Hawksbill turtles.

“All these species are also of very high cultural value to local communities and this project engages stakeholders in a collaborative effort to reduce the climate risks to the region’s turtles.”

“Climate change … threatens turtles in other ways including erosion of nesting beaches, drowning of nests, higher hatchling death when sand temperatures go above lethal levels, changes to seasonal timing of nesting and hatching, and broader impacts on sea country that impact the fitness and survivability of turtles,” Mr Stephen said.

Kevin Mye and Barry Pau discussing plans at Kemus Beach.

The temperature of sand in which eggs are laid determines the sex of turtles with warmer temperatures resulting in more females.

This means the population of male turtles could be in decline. It’s hoped that increasing shade on key nesting beaches will help to keep a balanced population of males and females.

TSRA has consulted heavily with the community to identify the most suitable use of shade trees to combat the effects of rising heat and sea levels on coastal ecosystems, marine life and human wellbeing.

Rangers on Mer and Erub implementing the project are working closely within their communities and have already chosen native tree species and trialled a variety of growing practices.

The project is a collaborative effort between Land and Sea Management Unit teams, the Torres Strait Island Regional Council, Regional Native Title Bodies Corporate, My Pathway, Traditional Owners and members of surrounding communities.

By Rachael Knowles