Western Australia’s vast and remote Shark Bay is a unique region covering more than 2.2 million hectares of land and sea. It is home to a great diversity of plants and animals, some of them found nowhere else on earth. Unfortunately many of the species that live in this immense wilderness are vulnerable or even critically endangered. One of them is the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), a species that depends on the bay’s plentiful seagrass meadows – just as the more than 10,000 Dugongs (Dugong dugon) that graze in this World Heritage Area.
Considering the high number of sightings of this massive turtle out in the water, it is hard to believe they are under serious threat. But although Green Sea Turtles are legally protected in Australia and hunting is restricted to traditional use by aboriginal people, they still face numerous challenges. Apart from crabs, goannas, birds and sharks that feed on hatchlings, the major threats are created by human activities. Each year thousands of turtles end up on baited longline hooks as bycatch, drown in fishing gear or choke on jellyfish-resembling plastic waste. Adding boating accidents, the loss of habitat by coastal development and pollution, the list of perils becomes rather lengthy. Overlaying it all is the effect of climate change, although leading scientist argue that a species that has been around for 110 million years might have the natural ability to adapt to a changing environment – changing nesting sites and breeding patterns prove this is already occurring. Together with the effort of governments, dedicated researchers, park rangers and a better public awareness this hopefully is enough to ensure these magnificent animals will be around for generations to come.