International Sea Turtle Society Calls On Australia to Protect Sea Turtles from Industrialization of Great Barrier Reef

For Immediate Release
May 15, 2014

The International Sea Turtle Society (ISTS) passed a strongly worded resolution urging the Australian government and state of Queensland to adopt a moratorium on all industrial development in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area until a strong protection and management scheme for sea turtles and all outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef is implemented.

Along with the moratorium, the scientific resolution called for a dozen specific actions to protect the Great Barrier Reef’s globally significant populations of six sea turtle species from the cumulative impacts of multiple large scale industrial projects, including new and expanded Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) refineries, coal and mineral processing facilities and associated ports and shipping. The Gladstone LNG plants and Abbott Point coal terminal are the biggest projects among many threatening the Great Barrier Reef.


Photo by PLindgren

The resolution was approved by leading experts on sea turtles worldwide who were attending the 34th International Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation in New Orleans, USA. The resolution was sponsored by Turtle Island Restoration Network, in Olema, California; Sea Turtle Foundation in Townsville, Queensland and Center for Biological Diversity in Seattle, Washington.

“To allow dirty energy companies to industrialize this critical nesting and feeding haven for sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef will push these vulnerable marine animals ever closer to the brink.” said Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network in California. “The sea turtle community is ready and willing to help implement the proposed sea turtle protections for the long-term.”

UNESCO, the international body charged with overseeing implementation of the World Heritage Convention, is warning that the status of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site may now be in danger due to industrial developments. UNESCO has threatened to add the reef to the “In Danger” list, a designation made when activities of a host country or outside entities threaten a world heritage area.

“Some Great Barrier Reef sea turtle populations are really stressed and won’t have the resilience to survive the cumulative impacts of climate change, industrial development, boat strikes and increasing human-caused threats,” said Julie Traweek, project manager at the Sea Turtle Foundation in Queensland. “Now that the sea turtle scientific community has spoken out, I hope we’ll see stronger protections, and soon.”

The reef has lost half its coral cover in 30 years and faces new threats from rising sea temperatures linked to climate change, polluted water and new development. In assessing impacts on the GBR’s biological diversity, UNESCO expressed “significant concerns located in or near sea turtle nesting beaches and marine habitat.”

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Photo by Glenn McFarlane

The resolution urging the following actions was sent to Australian Hon Greg Hunt MP Minister for the Environment, Government of Australia, Hon Andrew Powell MP, Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection; Dr. Russell Reichelt, Chairman and Chief Executive, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman:

  1. Fully address and finalize implementation of the corrective actions identified by the World Heritage Committee and thereby prevent the inscription of the GBRWHA on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee when it meets in June 2014.
  2.  To achieve the above, finalize and provide all necessary resources to implement the recommendations of both (a) the GBR Coastal Zone Strategic Assessment (as detailed in the program report) and (b) the GBR Region strategic assessment – especially where the recommendations relate to marine turtles and/or their habitats
  3. Immediately adopt a moratorium on all industrial development in the GBRWHA until a strong, internationally supported, scientifically based protection and management scheme for sea turtles and all outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef is imposed.
  4. Immediately adopt a moratorium on sea dumping of dredge spoils and sewage and graywater discharges from transiting ships in the GBRWHA.
  5. Expedite the completion and implementation of a sea turtle protection and management plan that includes a prioritization assessment and timeline for actions and a funding plan to carry it out in order to ensure the survival and recovery of all sea turtle populations in the GBRWHA.
  6. Designate permanent Sea Turtle Protection Areas similar to Dugong Protection Areas in key nesting and marine habitat such as seagrass beds as off limits to industrial development;
  7. Develop and implement a coastal light management plan for the Great Barrier Reef coast
  8. Develop an oil/fuel spill response plan for the GBRWHA, especially outside of designated port areas
  9. Ensure that the data collected as part of environmental risk assessments is provided to government and made available to the public to allow independent peer review.
  10. Develop policy mechanisms that ensure that commercial developers and government regulators must consider cumulative environmental risk.
  11. Require clean up and recycling of plastics and other marine trash created by industrial projects that enter sea turtle nesting and marine habitat; and prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags, water bottles, and other plastics at industrial sites in the GBRWHA
  12. 12. Seek and follow scientific advice and recommendations from sea turtle experts in Australia and from the international sea turtle community to achieve the above.

Click here to read the resolution notification letter. Click here to read the resolution.