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From sea turtle beaches to the wet and wild of Tasmania

After the sea turtle symposium in Brisbane, I spent a week at Mon Repos — a famous sea turtle beach near Bundaberg. There I helped Colin Limpus and his team of volunteers monitor and release loggerhead and flatback hatchlings. This is the most important nesting beach for Pacific Loggerheads in the Southern Pacific. While the females were mostly done with nesting, the hatchlings were emerging by the hundreds.

Colin has been marking and tagging hatchlings and female adults since the 1970s. The first hatchling to return as an adultclimbed onto the beach in 2003 at 29 years old. Sadly, the population was devastated by prawn trawlers, falling from 3,500 females to about 350 per year. That is beginning to turn around with the requirements for Turtle Excluder Devices in 2000.

After Mon Repos, I traveled to Tasmania for two weeks backpacking in the wet and wild Cradle-Mountain/Lake St. Claire National Park.   I completed the Overland Track with two Sierra Club leader friends Steven and Breanna; and then went into the backcountry of the DuCane Range guided by Cam Walker of Friends of the Earth Australia. He knows and can read this land like the back of his own hand.

Instead of sea turtles, it is a land of wombats, wallabies and wonderful ancient landscapes and trees that date back to the supercontinent of Gondwana. But amazningly, leatherback sea turtles have been tracked to the coast of Tasmania, where the water is cold and the winds blow at gale force.

Following this adventure, I took the bus to Hobart where the Sea Shepherd Society’s vessel, newly christened the Steve Irwin, was in port after its season combatting Japanese whalers. The  ship managed to block or slow whaling for about 5 weeks, with the Japanese fleet going on the attack to try to dissuade the “whale warriors.” On return to port, the Australian government raided the Sea Shepherd vessel, though it took no action against the illegal Japanese whaling.

But that didn’t stop the crew from offering help in saving the many pilot whales who stranded on an island north of the mainland. Amazing dedication, whether you support the  Sea  Shepherd tactics or not.

While touring the vessel with crew member Dan of Hobart , I asked what they were doing to minimize the environmental impacts of the shipon the ocean and learned from Engineer Dan that fresh water was being used as ballast (preventing spread of invasive species), that the old engine was running on marine diesel instead of bunker (less air pollution) and that new heads were being installed to “cook”  waste matter to kill off bacteria and other contaminants being going overboard.

Speaking of cooking, I discovered that Green activist Nicola from Fremantle, who I met in 2007, is now cooking on board the Steve Irwin and was a crew member during the whaling campaign this year.

I really appreciated meeting the crew and in particular am grateful to Ben, the vessel manager, who arranged for the private tour since I was leaving town before the public tours were happening (and which have drawn thousands of supporters every weekend).

Now I’m in warm and dry Western Australia, taking a few days rest in Fremantle before heading north to view threatened beaches in the Pilbara where Chevron plans to put a major new LNG port smack on top of Australian flatback nesting habitat. Will the economic downturn help turn back the tide of this energy-greedy project?