Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mass starvation of dugongs and turtles on Great Barrier Reef - 11th Sept 2011

A sudden mass starvation of turtles and dugongs, a rare sea mammal, off the coast of Queensland has prompted warnings of a long-term natural disaster in the normally sheltered waters just inshore of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Along hundreds of miles of beaches and on the shore of small islands, the rotting carcasses of green turtles and dugongs have are being washed ashore in alarming numbers - victims, scientists believe, of the after effects of the cyclone and floods that have afflicted this part of Australia in the past year.

Now naturalists fear that up to 1,500 dugongs – a species of sea cows – and 6,000 turtles along the Reef are likely to die in the coming months because their main food source, sea grass, which grows on the ocean floor, was largely wiped out by the floods and cyclone.

In some places the plants were ripped from the seabed by currents created by the storms and in others they were inundated under silt and soil washed out from the land by the torrential rains.

Beachgoers have reported stumbling across groups of turtles in shallow waters near Townsville – only to discover they were dead or dying.

"This is a long-term environmental disaster," said Dr Ellen Ariel, a turtle expert at James Cook University. Source