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Byron Shire
December 3, 2021

Dune degradation threatens turtles

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Last week’s sighting of turtle tracks on Clarkes Beach prompted a few questions from concerned readers. Are sandbags on our eroding beaches a threat to nesting turtles?

Sandbags themselves aren’t the problem, says Katie West from NSW TurtleWatch.

‘There’s no dune system there for her to lay her eggs in,’ said Ms West about Clarkes Beach. ‘It’s more the profile of that beach, rather than those particular sandbags.’

Turtle tracks on Clarkes Beach. Photo Rob Asquith.

More concerning are long term issues of climate change and development that degrade the sand dune systems turtles need.

‘You can paint the bigger picture, which is coastal erosion and these big storm surges and things like that are changing our coastline all the time, and that has an impact on our nesting turtles,’ said Ms West.

‘As we build our houses and things closer to the water, we do start to affect those dune systems.’

Duncan Dey, who is an environmental engineer and mayoral candidate for September’s local government elections, said creeping development and redistributing sand at the beach was a perennial issue.

‘First a tent, then a beach hut, then a fisherman’s hut, then it’s a McMansion,’ Mr Dey said.

‘The ocean is rising, don’t put anyone anywhere near the beach.’

Mr Dey said that in his previous time on council, ‘I don’t recall any of the debate ever going around, oh, what can we do to save the turtles’.

But with climate change set to bring more turtles to our beaches, turtle nesting habitat is an increasing concern for beachside development applications.

In response to questions about how turtles are taken into account when considering DAs, Byron Shire Council said in a statement: ‘For development in proximity to marine turtle nesting habitat, the proposal would need to demonstrate direct impacts to the habitat will be avoided – for example, by incorporating an appropriate setback distance between the habitat and the development footprint’.

‘The proposal would also need to demonstrate that indirect impacts will be avoided and/or minimised. In the context of marine turtles, this would likely involve a consent condition that regulates the potential impacts of artificial lighting which is known to repel nesting females and interfere with the orientation of hatchlings in some species.

‘Consent conditions have been included on previous DAs in proximity to marine turtle nesting habitat to ensure that artificial lighting is controlled according to current knowledge, including by requiring that it:

  • is directed away from the habitat
  • is installed as close as possible to the ground to minimise light spill and glow
  • is of the lowest intensity practicable
  • avoids the use of types of lighting that are known to have a greater impact on turtle behaviour (e.g., white LED, metal halide, white fluorescent).’

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  1. Many years ago, I had the experience of staying on a manned lighthouse at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. The small island was a turtle nesting habitat, but when the babies hatched, the light at night distracted them from heading out to sea. Instead the hatchlings swarmed towards the light. We did our bit at the time catching bucketloads & turfing them out to sea. How many turtles since have been misdirected by our built coastal environment?


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