Shell be right! Cape York rangers saving baby turtles from feral pigs and 4WDs

Suellen Hinde - Queensland Editor |

Baby turtles are under threat from feral pigs, weather events and four-wheel drive vehicles on remote Cape York beaches but Aboriginal rangers are using innovative ways to protect the hatchlings, including special aluminium cages to thwart the pigs.

Off-road drivers destroyed 39 flatback turtle nests in western Cape York in 2021, but overall attacks on turtle nests are at their lowest in six years because of the ongoing work of the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) ranger groups, particularly around the eradication of feral pigs.

The turtle nests were crushed after being run over by vehicles on Pennefather Beach – a popular recreation area north of Weipa on the West Cape – with Napranum’s Nanum Wungthim ranger group recording the damage.

Rangers monitored 3,698 marine turtle nests in 2021 and removed 2,693 pigs from the environment. Feral pigs love to eat turtle eggs and regularly hunt down the easy prey.

“There are a lot of challenges, such as the increasing number of vehicles on some beaches, local fisheries, and marine debris and ghost nets – all need to be addressed on a bigger scale,” Cape York Natural Resource Management Biodiversity and Fire Program Manager and WCTTAA coordinator Kerri Woodcock said.

“This is not to take away from the amazing work the ranger groups and others are doing on Country to protect the turtles.”

WCTTAA, is supported by Cape York Natural Resource Management (Cape York NRM), and has been protecting and monitoring turtle populations, including the threatened Olive Ridley species, for more than six years.

“These rangers are on the ground, protecting, caring for and strengthening our turtle numbers in sometimes 40-degree heat, in some of the most remote parts of the country.”

Rangers reported increasing challenges from weather events, such as the long wet season creating more mud inshore and restricting early beach access at Pormpuraaw; big winds and one metre waves and more marine debris, which made it difficult to monitor Skardon Beach at Mapoon; and large storms hitting the Jardine beach while Apudthama Rangers were camped there.

The Alliance is one of six demonstration sites across Australia delivering the National Feral Pig Action Plan. 

“This is a great development for us,” Mr Woodcock said.

 “The Alliance has been tackling the feral pig issue from the get-go. As well as the aerial culling and on-groundwork, rangers have developed innovative techniques such using design-specific aluminium cages that are put over the turtle nests to protect them from feral pigs – the most serious threat to turtle nesting populations.”

WCTTAA is a partnership of five Indigenous ranger groups Ranger groups – Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Management Rangers, Mapoon Land and Sea Management Rangers, Napranum’s Nanum Wungthim Rangers, NPARC/ Apudthama Rangers and Kowanyama Rangers. Supported by Cape York NRM the work is funded through the Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program.

The National Feral Pig Action Plan aims to facilitate national coordination of feral pig management and control and raise awareness of feral pig issues.