30 July 2014


Look - baby turtle!

Isn’t this photo amazing? Imagine if your job was to help this little fella. Just recently I met some of our Indigenous ranger partners, whose job description includes just that - protecting baby turtles. Part of the Gudjuda Reference Group, these men and women are Traditional Owners for the land between the Whitsunday Islands and Townsville.

Through their ranger program, which launched a year ago, the rangers take on greater responsibility for the management and protection of their Sea Country and its iconic and beautiful marine life, like turtles. Their work includes turtle tagging and research, cleaning beaches, revegetation of key areas, and educating young people through the junior ranger program. In just one year, thanks to their hard work, training and the support of their community, the rangers have come so far. 

And as World Ranger Day is on this week it’s the perfect time to acknowledge their hard work. But don’t take my word for it – here are some snippets from the rangers themselves.

Gudjuda Ranger Coordinator Eddie Smallwood= Alva Beach= Ayr= North Queensland
© WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

Eddie Smallwood (Elder and Chairperson of Gudjuda Reference Group)

The best thing about our ranger program is being out on country. Everyone has got to look after it but to me, it’s especially satisfying to see a Traditional Owner looking after their own country. For us it’s very important to take care of the waterways and species, like the gungu or turtle. It’s beautiful and we have to take care of it for generations to come. That’s why we work with the community here, cleaning up our waterways, picking up rubbish and working with scientists to monitor the numbers and health of our turtles. It’s about encouraging all of us to have a connection to country.

Gudjuda ranger Tracey Lampton
© WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

Tracey Solomon (Ranger, Gudjuda Reference Group)

I love this job. Earlier this year I had an amazing experience. We were at Mon Repos beach at night with scientists to count baby turtles. Using head torches, we walked that beach, up and down and up and down searching for turtle eggs and hatchlings. Suddenly we heard across the walkie talkie that some of the scientists had found baby turtles that had just hatched. It was our job to identify and count the hatchlings, measure their shell and weigh them – and then help them into the water. At first I was a bit scared because they were so small and soft as they lay in the palm of my hand, but I soon felt more confident handling these tiny creatures. They were so beautiful.

Gudjuda Ranger= Dianne Smallwood at Alva Beach= Ayr= North Queensland
© WWF-Aus / Karen Kalpage

Dianne (Ranger, Gudjuda Reference Group)

Nobody wants to walk around a beach full of rubbish. One of our jobs is to pick up the litter, like plastics, drink bottles, even thongs and fishing line. Rubbish is really bad for the turtles, especially something like fishing line, because they can get tangled up in it. Some people would find picking up rubbish a chore but I could do this all day.

Gudjuda Ranger= Ben at Alva Beach= Ayr= North Queensland
© WWF-Aus / Karen Kalpage

Ben (Ranger, Gudjuda Reference Group)

Sometimes it’s simple things that can make a real difference. Around the main turtle nesting areas on Wunjunga beach, we noticed four wheel drive tracks everywhere. Not good for vegetation or our turtles. So we built a fence to keep four wheel drives off these dunes and to help protect our nesting turtles. And it’s not any old fence, but a sturdy one with copper posts and wire. It was really hard work building it – and there was a lot of learning on the job because it was the very first fence we built. We’ve just come out six months later and wow! We’re seeing native vegetation grow back which will encourage native species back to the area. And we’re even seeing wallaby tracks. It is noticeably different. It’s times like this that are so rewarding.

Gudjuda Aboriginal Corporation Administration Officer Michaela Solomon at the Plantation Park= Ayr= North Queensland
© WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

Michaela (Administration Officer, Gudjuda Reference Group)

My favourite work is to go out turtle tagging, as it’s important to look out for the turtles. I remember the day mum, who has been a ranger for about a year now, came home excited – she was just buzzing. She had been turtle monitoring and just watched a turtle lay eggs at Mon Repos. They then had to relocate the eggs slightly higher up the beach so when they hatch the baby turtles won’t drown. It was slow and careful work. I’m proud of my mum for doing that.

By Karen Kalpage