Southern Great Barrier ReefAvoid Island
Avoid Island Nature Refuge
Avoid Island sits within a Habitat Protection Zone of the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park, 18 km from the nearest mainland shore and 125 km southeast of Mackay in Central Queensland.
One of 600 continental islands in the Great Barrier Reef, it features steep rusty-red rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky peaks and a truly remarkable mosaic of habitats including mangroves and samphire swamps, beach scrubs, melaleuca forests, grasslands and dry sclerophyll forests.
With ongoing coastal development between Mackay and Gladstone, including in and around Gladstone Harbour, the importance of protecting the island grows each year.
We manage the island as a covenanted Nature Refuge securing safe nesting areas for significant numbers of flatback turtles and a haven for the nationally threatened Littoral Rainforest and Coastal Vine thicket community.
Avoid Island’s beaches are thought to provide nesting habitat for around 25-30% of the Queensland flatback turtle population. Its long term importance is intensified because it is the only major flatback rookery not directly impacted by habitat degradation from introduced predators, light pollution or industrial development.
Why is it so special?
Around the globe, islands are the last refuge for many threatened and endemic species. Avoid Island protects an array of bird species including beach stone-curlew, eastern curlew and the sooty oyster-catcher. For these coastal birds, protecting nesting, roosting and feeding sites from human disturbance is vital. Dugong (Dugong dugon) are also found in waters off the island.
The remoteness of Avoid Island is both a challenge and a unique opportunity in terms of land management; the sensitive site requires carefully designed and targeted techniques. Islands are ideal locations to demonstrate best practice land management for conservation as it is easier to control bio-security, particularly introduced weeds and pests.
Significant tidal range contributes to the uniqueness of the island with strong currents created by a tidal range of greater than four metres and on a low tide it is possible to walk out to several small islands from the headland. The volcanic geological features of Avoid Island resemble a scene from Tolkein’s Middle Earth and include mesozoic to proterozoic igneous rocks and areas of tertiary acid volcanic rock.
Real-world learning on the Reef
QTFN’s work on Avoid Island supports university researchers, schools and volunteer expeditions. We are all working together to ensure survival of marine species on the Great Barrier Reef.
An ongoing collaboration with leading marine scientist, Dr Nancy Fitzsimmon from Griffith University, funded by the Gladstone Ports Corporation, is contributing to vital information that will underpin the long-term recovery plan for Australian marine turtles.
Monitoring has been ongoing each season since 2012, and it is currently planned to continue for at least ten years to determine if the population is stable and provide a comparison to sites affected by human modification and light pollution (Curtis Island and Peak Island)
Each year, prior to the start of nesting season QTFN takes volunteers to the island to remove threatening transformer weeds and conduct beach clean-ups. Despite its remoteness, beach clean-ups generally collect in the order of about 50kg of rubbish. We count and categorise refuse collected and provide information to the Australian Marine Debris Database.
The Flatback Bivouac runs annually at our Avoid Island nature refuge.
Delivered in conjunction with Wonder of Science (WoS), the camp gives school students hands-on experiences alongside professional scientists, observing turtles laying, scientific data collection and recording techniques.
This rewarding and unforgettable experience embeds interest in scientific research, conservation land management and marine ecology in students’ lives.
Flatback turtles are probably the most mysterious and shy of all marine turtles and they have a challenging start to life. They emerge from their shells buried deep in the sand and must dig to the surface, then travel safely to their new home in the ocean.
The flatback turtle is unique in Australia being the only sea turtle to nest solely on Australian shores. Some individuals forage as far as the Indonesian archipelago and the Papua New Guinea coast but they all return to Australian waters for nesting and hatching, making them one of our iconic species. There are four known genetic groups of flatback turtles with the eastern Queensland group being relatively under-represented in research.
As well as the Vulnerable Flatback turtles, Avoid Island is visited by the more cosmopolitan but also Vulnerable Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
Queensland’s Marine Turtles
The Great Barrier Reef is home to 6 of 7 of the world’s marine turtle species. For over 100 million years marine turtles have migrated our oceans seeking places to nest and feed. As human populations grow marine turtles are becoming increasingly endangered as their habitat becomes polluted and contested.
Queensland Trust for Nature’s management of Avoid Island supports the recovery objectives set out in the national Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia. These include minimising anthropogenic threats including habitat modification through infrastructure and human occupancy, controlling light pollution, noise interference and recreational activities that adversely impact on sea turtles and minimising vessel disturbance including boat strike, bycatch in fisheries and terrestrial disturbance to nesting habitat. Australian Government’s
Climate change is of particular concern to marine turtles because it is likely to have impacts across their entire range and at all life stages.
Predicted increases in sand temperature may result in changed sex ratios or decreased hatching success. Changes to water temperature may affect ocean circulation and dispersal patterns, timing of breeding, as well as result in coral bleaching and seagrass die off, which may affect turtle foraging.
Increased frequency and intensity of heavy rains and extreme weather events may lead to reduced or altered nesting habitat, and increased egg mortality through inundation or scouring.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park