Critically endangered hawksbill turtles that nest on islands east of Papua New Guinea have been tracked moving across parts of the Coral Sea marine park where the Australian government wants to allow commercial fishing, conservationists have found.
Ten of the turtles were tagged at the privately owned Conflict Islands in early January, with seven swimming across the Coral Sea to the Great Barrier Reefto feed.
WWF Australia, a partner in the satellite-tracking project, said the data confirmed for the first time that hawksbill turtles use the Coral Sea as a highway between their nesting beaches and their feeding grounds.
The Coral Sea marine park covers 1 million sq km but also includes different zones, including so-called “no-take” areas where activities such as commercial fishing are banned.
Under the former Labor government, large areas of the Coral Sea were designated “no-take” – including the areas where the hawksbill turtles were tracked. But those zones were suspended in 2013 by the incoming Abbott government – before they were ever in force.
Now the government has rezoned the Coral Sea marine park, removing large areas of “no-take” that include the areas the hawksbill turtles used to migrate, and replacing them with areas that only protect the seafloor and allows some commercial fishing.