Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Influence of industrial light pollution on the sea-finding behaviour of flatback turtle hatchlings

Ruth L. Kamrowski A D , Col Limpus B , Kellie Pendoley C and Mark Hamann A
+ Author Affliations
- Author Affliations

A School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

B Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, PO Box 2454, Brisbane, Qld 4001, Australia.

C Pendoley Environmental Pty Ltd, 12A Pitt Way, Booragoon, WA 6154, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: ruth.kamrowski@my.jcu.edu.au

Wildlife Research 41(5) 421-434 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR14155
Submitted: 2 May 2014  Accepted: 18 October 2014   Published: 20 February 2015

Abstract

Context: Numerous studies show that artificial light disrupts the sea-finding ability of marine turtle hatchlings. Yet very little has been published regarding sea-finding for flatback turtles. Given the current industrialisation of Australia’s coastline, and the large potential for disruption posed by industrial light, this study is a timely investigation into sea-finding behaviour of flatback turtle hatchlings.

Aims: We investigate sea-finding by flatback turtle hatchlings in relation to ambient light present in areas of planned or ongoing industrial development, and evaluate the fan and arena-based methods that are frequently used for quantifying hatchling dispersion.

Methods: Using a combination of methods, we assessed the angular range and directional preference of sea-finding hatchlings at two key flatback turtle rookeries, Peak and Curtis Islands, during January–February 2012 and 2013, and at Curtis Island in January 2014. Relative light levels at each site were measured using an Optec SSP-3 stellar photometer, and moon phase, moon stage and cloud cover were also recorded.

Key results: We found no evidence of impaired hatchling orientation, and observed very low levels of light at Peak Island. However, at Curtis Island, hatchlings displayed reduced sea-finding ability, with light horizons from the direction of nearby industry significantly brighter than from other directions. The sea-finding disruption observed at Curtis Island was less pronounced in the presence of moonlight.

Conclusions: The reduced sea-finding ability of Curtis Island hatchlings was likely due to both altered light horizons from nearby industry, as well as beach topography. Both methods of assessing hatchling orientation have benefits and limitations. We suggest that fan-based methods, combined with strategically placed arenas, would provide the best data for accurately assessing hatchling sea-finding.

Implications: Sky glow produced by large-scale industrial development appears detrimental to sea-finding by flatback turtle hatchlings. As development continues around Australia’s coastline, we strongly recommend continued monitoring of lighting impacts at adjacent turtle nesting beaches. We also advise rigorous management of industrial lighting, which considers cumulative light levels in regions of multiple light producers, as well as moon phase, moon-stage, cloud cover and time of hatchling emergence. All these factors affect the likelihood of disrupted hatchling sea-finding behaviour at nesting beaches exposed to artificial light-glow, industrial or otherwise.

Additional keywords: industrial development, marine turtle, Natator depressus, orientation, Port Curtis


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