Solid Port Hedland Turtle Season After Slower Than Usual Start

The Care For Hedland Environmental Association, with the support of its principal partner BHP and in conjunction with the Town of Port Hedland and Department Biodiversity Conservation & Attractions (DBCA) has been conducting monitoring of turtle activities along Port Hedland’s Cemetery Beach, Pretty Pool Beach and Spoilbank during the past laying and hatchling season (30th October 2022- 28th February 2023). This season was the 19th year of monitoring by the Association and its community of volunteers of the local Flatback turtle nesting populations.

On these local Port Hedland beaches, community volunteer led monitoring for the season will continue through till 28th February 2023. However preliminary analysis of data to date, has already commenced and is providing positive insights into the 2022/2023 Port Hedland Flatback Turtle season and the overall health of the Port Hedland breeding population.

Interestingly this season, the turtle nesting activity commenced on Port Hedland beaches one month later than usual. This has been primarily attributed to the cooler than usual ocean temperatures July through to September. This resulted in adult nesting peaks and hatchling emergence peaks being one month later than usual. Despite this later start this season, once the season did get underway, it has been a solid season and very similar to the results recorded in 2018/2019.

This 2022/2023 season there have been to date 932 nests recorded along Cemetery Beach.  There were also 822 false crawls recorded, which in total represents 1,754 adult turtle activities on Cemetery Beach to date. At Pretty Pool Beach this season 78 nests have been recorded and 5 false crawls, equalling a total of 83 adult turtle activities. Spoilbank has recorded 7 nests and 2 false crawls, equalling a total of 9 adult turtle activities to date. In terms of hatchling emergence, to date over 397 individual/discrete nest emergences have been recorded at Cemetery Beach, when accounting for all batches recorded over 542 hatchling batch emergences, totalling just over 9,925 thousand hatchlings have been track monitored along Cemetery Beach. There have been 27 hatchling individual/discrete emergences recorded along Pretty Pool Beach to date.

Though this seems like a lot of turtles on the beach, it has to be considered that Flatback turtles do not nest every year.  When they do Flatback turtles only nest every 2-4 years.  On the years when they do nest, they lay up to three clutches in the season.  They come up usually a fortnight apart to carry out the separate nesting attempts, thereby coinciding with favourable tide heights and moon phases.  Therefore, taking this into consideration, from the number of nests it can be considered this season that approximately 290-360 female adult Flatback turtles have been involved in the recorded activity on our local Port Hedland beaches.

Evening monitoring was also conducted by the Association, largely involving people management and ensuring that interactions did not disturb the nesting turtles. It was found that a significant number of people (both local and tourists) come down to Cemetery Beach particularly between mid-November to late-December to see the turtles during the daytime nesting times.  It was also found that there were, throughout the season, a number of incidences of impact on nesting turtles from torches, people getting too close to turtles, dogs off leads and flash photography. This season the Association guided in excess of 2,500 members of the public along Cemetery Beach to view adult turtle nesting and/or turtle hatchling emergence.

The Association’s 50-night “mark and recapture” tagging program had interactions with 528 individual turtles. Of which 20 were “new” turtles that had never before been recorded at Cemetery Beach. The Evening Program also marked 40 nests and deployed temperature data loggers in each of those nests. The nest success studies have only just been completed and the temperature data loggers retrieved. The Association looks forward to examining the data from temperature data loggers, as well as better understanding nest fertility and mortality results and emergence rates for the 2022/2023 season, within the backdrop of the comparatively milder Port Hedland summer experienced to date.

Once the season concludes at the end of February, there will be a more detailed analysis of the data collected and comparisons with previous seasons and trends analysis. All data collected goes into the Department Biodiversity Conservation & Attractions WA Sea Turtle Monitoring Database. From the now nineteen years of data now collected, it appears that Cemetery Beach, Pretty Pool Beach and the Spoilbank continue to be the home of a stable population of nesting Flatback turtles.

At the end of the season, Care For Hedland Environmental Association looks forward to presenting the complete end of season results. As well as importantly formally recognising the efforts of all the tremendous community volunteers that have taken part in the 2022/2023 Flatback turtle nesting season through the awarding of volunteer hour certificates and its three perpetual awards – Care For Hedland Environmental Association “Most Valuable Senior” & “Most Valuable Junior” turtle monitor awards and Chairperson’s Award.  The three awards act to recognise the efforts of particular individuals that contributed not only sometimes well above the call of duty, but that also display inspirational qualities that promote the continuation of the Care For Hedland Environmental Association Volunteer Turtle Monitoring Program. 

With one month of the monitoring season to go, there is still much to do. But preliminary results look positive and assist greatly in continuing to secure the future of Flatback turtles in Port Hedland.

For further information on the Care For Hedland Volunteer Turtle monitoring program please contact Care For Hedland Environmental Association Morning Program Coordinator Kelly Howlett on (mob) 04399 41431 or email:

Author: Kelly Howlett

Photo Credits: Kelly Howlett