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Threatened Species of the Great Barrier Reef

Marine Turtles

Did you know that turtles have inhabited the oceans for more than 150 million years and that six of the worlds seven species reside here at Mission Beach and the Great Barrier Reef?

Well they do and they are all unfortunately listed on the endangered list and need to be protected by locals as well as tourists alike.

The six species at Mission Beach and the Great Barrier Reef are:

  • Hawksbill Turtle
     
  • Flatback Turtle
     
  • Green Sea Turtle
     
  • Olive Ridley Turtle
     
  • Leatherback Turtle

These creatures are incredibly slow on the land but lightening fast when in the water. When snorkeling you can see them resting on the bottom near coral and will stay in that position for some time if left undisturbed.

Turtles are often spotted swimming around the Clump Point Jetty on both low tide and high tide as are sting rays and other fish species.

As a user of the marine environment we need to ensure that all articles and their wrapping or containers taken to the beach or out on a boat is brought back with you and not dumped at sea. If caught dumping in the ocean you will be severely penalized by the local authorities.

Plastic bags are a big no no out on the Great Barrier Reef as they can blow into the water very easily and turtles mistake them for jelly fish. The plastic bag then gets stuck in their organs and they die a slow painful death if not rescued early enough to remove the plastic bag.

The good thing about the sea turtle is that it is the natural predator for eating dangerous marine stingers and keeping down the population of Irukanji and Box Jelly fish and for this very reason we need to protect them more than we currently are.

Many of the tropical beaches and surrounding Islands off Mission Beach host nesting turtles with the female crawling from the ocean to dig nests in the sand and deposit a clutch of eggs where they will incubate for around two months.

If you come across any turtle tracks on Mission Beach or the Islands please advise the Sea Turtle Foundation on SMS 0431 259 129 so they can identify the species and the nesting location to help protect it. Please do not disturb the track as this identifies the species of turtle that is nesting here.

Dugong or Elephant of the Sea

Did you know that grass grows under water? Well it looks like grass anyway its called seagrass and Dugong feast on it as it is low in fibre, high in nitrogen and easily digestible.

The estimated Dugong population in the whole of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is believed to be around 10,000 but with poaching, fishing, pollution, sharks, crocodiles, disease, and development of coastal landscapes and accidents with boats these numbers are dwindling fast.

The Dugong is a giant gentle creature that swims along in the water at a very gentle pace and its main home in the Mission Beach region is around Hinchinbrook Island but Dugongs can be seen up and down the coastal areas of the Great Barrier Reef where there are no waves and the grasses are able to grow in shallower waters.

Aboriginals are still allowed to hunt for these marine creatures at different times of the year and only take them in limited numbers for ceremonial occasions. Unfortunately this tradition is being misused by certain individuals and the meat being sold on the black market.

With high speed boats at their disposal nowadays the Turtle and the Dugong do not have a fair chance of escaping and are easy prey.

Whilst you are having fun on the waters off Mission Beach please ensure you are always on the lookout for these slow gentle giants and avoid a collision with them at all costs. There are certain zones that you are either not allowed to enter with a motor boat or you have to go as slow as possible.

If you see a sick or injured Dugong please make sure you report it immediately to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on 07 4750 0700

If you see anyone approaching or hurting a Dugong please call the Department of Primary Industry and fishing on 13 25 23

Whales

From May to September migrating Humpback whales are regularly seen cruising the coastline from Tasmania and Victoria all the way to the northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef to mate and calve.

The female Humpback finds a protective ring of coral with which to hide and give birth in the shallower water away from the marauding sharks looking for an easy meal.

The mother and calf will stay here for a period of time whilst they both gain strength and the mother teaches her offspring to keep up with her. When she feels the calf is strong enough and the summer is approaching in the polar region and food is once again becoming abundant she will start to make the long journey with her now playful offspring.

All whales within Australian waters are protected and there are limits on how close boats, planes, helicopters and all other marine craft are allowed to approach.

Whales are social creatures especially the younger ones and they often swim up to a boat to have a closer look. All engines are to be shut down so as not to endanger the animal and no interference or harm is to be inflicted on the whale. Whales are constantly in danger of being harvested from the colder Icelandic countries and the so called research that the Japanese conduct in the southern oceans.

Another unusual or recently discovered type of whale species that visits the Great Barrier Reef from May to September is the little known Dwarfe Minke Whale. Previously it was thought that there was only one single variable species of Minke Whale throughout the world's oceans.

The Dwarfe Minke Whale is only known in the Southern Waters and on average the female is around 2 meters shorter than Antarctic Minke Whales. The largest Minke Whale came in at 7.8 meters long and weighed around 5-6 tonnes.

The records show that around 200 or so of these inquisitive cheeky little whales exist and come to the Great Barrier Reef each year and they are more than happy to interact with boats, divers and snorkellers. They are known to come up close and have a good look at you and do some displays like spy hopping and winking up close at you.

On the Great Barrier Reef we have several marine tour operators that have been granted permits for guests to swim with these Dwarfe Minke Whales for the purpose of recording these interactions to get to know more about the habits of these little whales.

If you would like to swim with whales please send and email to info@cairnsholidayspecialists.com.au or call and book on 07 4059 5959. These vessels operate from Port Douglas only not Mission Beach.

As you can see Mission Beach has a lot of amazing things for you to see and witness all year round. It's a playground for the perfection of things that Mother Nature created for all to enjoy and live together symbiotically in harmony. Stand up and be counted help to protect these pristine sanctuaries for the future generations. Get involved adopt a reef creature Here