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Turtle, dugongs 'at risk under climate change'

While sea turtles have survived large climatic fluctuations during their evolutionary history, modern rates of climate change are much faster, and are coupled with additional human pressures," says Dr Fuentes. "We still do not know whether turtles can adapt to modern rates of climate change."

Dugongs may experience indirect effects of climate change and human activity through impacts on their main food source, seagrass. Seagrass diebacks are linked to lower reproduction, increased mortality and emigration of dugongs.

Dr Fuentes has been working closely with indigenous communities in the Torres Strait region and northern GBR to monitor turtle numbers and condition and to track the movements of dugongs.

She says it will be important to take a range of short-term and long-term measures to protect turtles and dugongs from climate change, including:

  • reducing the negative stresses that they are currently subject to.
  • actively trying to change the habitat they use (e.g. by shading nests, re-vegetating beaches, and replacing lost sand).
  • protecting areas that seem to offer the best conditions as refuges in the future.

"Turtles and dugongs have numerous roles apart from their cultural and spiritual significance to the indigenous community, they are important for the tourism industry. Being at the top of the food chain also means that they have high ecological significance."

The loss of these species would have a huge impact on the northern Australian marine environment and on indigenous communities, she warns.

"There are still many uncertainties over how turtles and dugongs will be impacted by climate change. For the time being the best prospects for their survival are to mitigate climate change (by reducing carbon emissions) and to reduce negative pressure on turtles and dugongs from activities such as hunting and coastal development."

"However, as the impacts of climate ch

Contact: Mariana Fuentes
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies

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