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Australia’s Flatback Turtles Threatened By Natural Gas Projects at Both Nesting and Feeding Grounds

Sea turtles that nest on Barrow Island swim to the Kimberley in Western Australia

Western Australia’s flatback sea turtles are being threatened by major natural gas projects throughout their life cycle. Satellite tracking over the past two years shows for the first time that after nesting at the major rookery at Barrow Island off the coast near Onslow, flatbacks swim north along the coast into the Kimberley to feed.

The sea turtles will soon lose nesting beaches and marine habitat on Barrow Island due to the massive Chevron Gorgon natural gas plant. They will then face major disruption at their feeding grounds in the Kimberley near James Prices Point north of Broome if a proposed natural gas plant is sited there. The new gas plant is a joint venture with Woodside Petroleum, Chevron, Shell and BP. Take Action – Tell Chevron to Stop Destroying Sea Turtle Habitat.

“Australia’s own flatback turtle has been forgotten in the fossil fuel frenzy in the Northwest,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) headquartered in California. TIRN advocates for the protection of sea turtles around the world. “These ancient marine animals could disappear before we even understand their life cycle.”

The most frequented flatback turtle foraging ground for Barrow Island nesters as revealed by the satellite telemetry is located off Quondong Point just a few kilometers from James Price Point, according to Chevron’s long-term marine turtle management plan for the Gorgon project.

Most tracking of marine turtles in Western Australia was started during the past two years. Only a few turtles have been tracked up to five years ago. No long term tracking or research on flatback turtles in Western Australia has been conducted.

“The tracks of the turtles tell us that we need to stop siting massive projects in their marine habitat,” Shore said. “We can’t wipe out a rookery with one project and turtle feeding grounds with another. We know very little about the flatbacks so we need to pay attention to the tracking data now underway.”

The Chevron Gorgon plant is sited on a major sea turtle rookery on Barrow Island where an estimated 1,000 flatbacks nest every year. Starting next year when they return to nest, the flatbacks will find their nesting beaches will be forever altered. A full 95 percent of the nests lay within 4 kilometers of the Gorgon development. Chevron has promised $62.5 million to the West Australian government offset the permanent and irreversible damage to the flatback on Barrow Island, a nature reserve. Public oversight of those funds has not been established.

At the proposed natural gas plant at James Price Point, marine turtles have been studied only sporadically and the research has never been published. The satellite tracking is the first concrete evidence of flatback activity in the area. In addition, Broome residents have photographed sea turtles and nesting tracks in the area. However, representatives of Woodside Petroleum recently denied that any sea turtles nest on or near James Prices.

Shore recently visited James Prices Point to view the propose natural gas hub. Last year she toured the industrialized Pilbara to view the natural gas plants, iron ore ports and salt plants that dominate the coastline.

“I was taken bush by locals who showed me the country between Broome and James Price Point. I was stunned by the incredible beauty of the ancient trees and grasslands, magnificent Jabirus and transformed by the red rock, blue oceans and white beaches,” Shore said. “In contrast, I was shocked and frightened by the natural gas plant at Burrup and overwhelmed by the iron ore port at Port Hedland.”

TIRN is calling on Chevron, the Joint Venture Partners and the Australian government to halt natural gas development in the Northwest until research is completed to fully assess the environmental harm to marine turtles, whales, flora and fauna and human communities. TIRN is also requesting that the Western Australian government to release its draft Marine Turtle Recovery Plan, make public the Western Australian Marine Turtle Database, and to engage Australian and international sea turtle biologists to implement a long-term sea turtle protection and recovery plan to ensure the survival and prevent the extinction of sea turtles in W. A. waters.