Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings founds on Kimberley coast
Ben Collins – ABC Kimberley
Tiny baby turtles were found by a joint patrol of the new Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park by Parks and Wildlife and Dambimangari rangers, including Parks and Wildlife senior ranger Daniel Barrow.
“On one of our patrols, we were lucky enough to discover one of the nests with the olive ridleys actively hatching there,” Mr Barrow told ABC Kimberley’s Erin Parke.
“The Dambi rangers Keiran and Raph, came across quite a bizarre-looking track coming out of one of the nests.”
Rangers carefully excavate nests where turtles have hatched to establish breeding success rates, and it was during this process that they realised the significance of their find.
“It wasn’t until we dug them up that we found a couple of the hatchlings that were severely dehydrated [because] they were tangled up in the grass roots in the nest site, along with a few of their brothers and sisters,” Mr Barrow said.
With a nestling in hand, rangers suspected they had found an olive ridley turtle nest, which are rarely found in Western Australia.
“There’s only been a few adults found on the WA coast,” Mr Barrow said.
“And it was only in 2008 that the first ever hatchling was discovered out of Cape Leveque.”
Photographs and DNA samples have since confirmed the rare discovery.
“This is the sixth one, I believe, that has been discovered in WA waters,” Mr Barrow said.
An adult olive ridley turtle
PHOTO: Olive ridley turtles, like this one photographed on the coast of India, are the most abundant sea turtle globally, though they are rarely found in many parts of the tropics including northern Australia. (Wikimedia Commons: Bernard Gagnon)
Australia’s rarest and the world’s most abundant
While it was not known that olive ridley turtles nested in Western Australia until recently, Mr Barrow suspects that there is a lot more to be discovered about the unusual reptile.
“That area of the Kimberley is so remote and so vast that there hasn’t been a lot of work done,” Mr Barrow said.
“With the new marine park coming online, there’s been an opportunity there for people to get out and about.”
Olive ridley turtles occur in tropical waters around the world, and are regarded as the most abundant of the seven species of sea turtle.
While they nest in their millions on the coasts of India, Mexico and Costa Rica, they are rarely encountered in many parts of the tropics, including northern Australia.
Their global population is thought to have declined by as much as 30 per cent because of a multitude of threats including egg predation, boat-strike, and fisheries bycatch and their conservation status is regarded as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The olive ridley turtle is the smallest of the six species of sea turtle found in Australian waters, and have a distinctive appearance according to Mr Barrow.
“They’re quite a delicate-looking turtle, very smooth and they do look a little different,” he said.
Most Australians will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that the elusive turtle occasionally makes its home along the Kimberley coast, because even in the unlikely event that an olive ridley turtle was sighted, many would not know it.
“To the untrained eye, a lot of people probably wouldn’t know the difference,” Mr Barrow said.
Across Talbot bay towards Camden Sound in the Kimberley, a new marine park