In search of sea turtles in Western Australia

Bailey Rankine helps sea turtles on Australia’s coast

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This article was published 20/01/2015 (2867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s 4 a.m. in Western Australia, and Bailey Rankine is preparing to start her day. She has a long seven-kilometre trek ahead of her on the search for signs of sea turtles.

At the crack of dawn she heads out onto the beaches of Gnaraloo station, located about 1,000 kilometres north of Perth, with four of her colleagues to survey the sand.

Rankine is looking for turtle tracks, along with the tracks of predators such as the invasive European red fox, to determine what took place the night prior.

Supplied Photo University of Manitoba master’s student and former Fort Garry local Bailey Rankine collects data on the beach of Gnaraloo station in Western Australia. She is currently working on a sea turtle conservation project in the area.

“We want to get on the beach early because it is exceptionally windy here,” Rankine said. “It can obscure the turtle tracks pretty easily so we want to get out there before the wind starts blowing, which makes it difficult to interpret what happened.”

Rankine and the team collect meticulous data from the tracks that help them determine what species of turtles are coming on shore and whether or not they are dropping a clutch of about 130 eggs.

Rankine left Winnipeg last October to join the team at Gnaraloo station in its sea turtle conservation effort.

The former Fort Garry local and current Osborne Village resident was in the midst of writing her master’s thesis on aquatic toxicology at the University of Manitoba when she decided to get back into turtle conservation.

“I started looking for turtle conservation jobs and I found this Gnaraloo program. One of the girls I worked with in Florida (during the 2011 nesting season) actually worked on this program and she had really great things to say about it,” she said.

“By showing that Gnaraloo Bay is a significant rookery, and by significant I mean it sees at least 300 nests per season, we can protect the area.”

Rankine is the only Canadian involved in the program, which aims to identify, monitor and protect coastal nesting sites of endangered sea turtles. The most common species of sea turtles found on the beaches of Gnaraloo are loggerhead, green — both of which are endangered — and hawksbill, which is critically endangered. According to Gnaraloo’s website, the Gnaraloo Bay rookery is one of the most significant breeding areas for loggerheads in Western Australia.

There are a number of threats facing sea turtle populations on the coast of Western Australia, Rankine said, including coastline development along turtle nesting beaches, increased boat traffic in areas frequented by the animals, commercial fisheries and feral animals such as cats, dogs and the European red fox.

“Those animals, they will predate beyond the capacity of the species because they are in an area where they have no natural predators and they can completely destroy a native species population,” Rankine said.

The data collection and data entry, which is also a significant part of Rankine’s day, is used to demonstrate that turtles are nesting on Gnaraloo’s beaches and in turn is used to ensure the seclusion of the area.

“By showing that Gnaraloo Bay is a significant rookery, and by significant I mean it sees at least 300 nests per season, we can protect the area,” Rankine said. “That means protect it from coastline development, because there are different organizations that want to come in and build hotels, but if we have this as a protected site they are not able to do that.”

Supplied Photo Rankine collects data on sea turtles, like this loggerhead, found on the coastline to support conservation efforts and advocate for protected areas.

Sea turtle nesting season will be coming to a close at the end of February and before Rankine returns home to finish up her thesis she will be going on a tour of Western Auswetralia with the Gnaraloo team to present their research at local schools — one of the highlights of the job, she said.

“The community engagement is probably one of the best aspects.”

Visit www.gnaraloo.com for more information on the program.

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Whenever time permits, Rankine makes a point of enjoying her time in Western Australia. She said the snorkeling in the area is superb.
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