Staff from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Ipima Ikaya Aboriginal Corporation have removed 100kg of rubbish and large debris from the shores of Milman Island, off the coast of Cape York in the Great Barrier Reef.


This tiny island is a critical rookery or nesting ground of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle, and the significant amount of marine plastic and washed-up logs from the Coral Sea have been blocking access to protected nesting sites above the high tide line.

The Hawksbill turtle is one of six sea turtle species found in the Great Barrier Reef and is recognisable by its distinct parrot-like beak which it uses to pick sponges out of cracks and crevices in coral reefs.


A Hawksbill turtle nesting on Milman Island, Great Barrier Reef 2023 | Photo by Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service

A Annual Team Effort

Over 17 days, five staff surveyed nesting sea turtles and collected the rubbish accumulated on the remote island since last year’s visit. Studies have shown the rubbish accumulated on Milman Island has travelled from as far as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Similarly, large logs wash up around the island, preventing turtles from reaching the high-tide line to lay their eggs. Staff used chainsaws to remove the barriers, as fires are prohibited on the island.

QPWS Technical Officer Julian Wilson saw the results first-hand.

‘It was quite amazing – within a day of us clearing one spot, a Green turtle climbed up the beach in the exact same place where a large tree had been just hours earlier’, Mr Wilson said. ‘In the time we were there, four different turtles came up and nested in areas that were previously blocked off by timber.’

Each year, QPWS staff visit the island to tag and assess nesting turtles, determine hatchling success rates, and record any changes to the island’s size and condition. During their two-week stay, the team tagged and checked roughly 130 turtles, which included Hawksbill, Green, and Flatback turtles.  

Sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef and worldwide are under threat due to climate change, marine debris entanglement, and hunting, with vulnerable hatchlings at predation by seagulls and other birds. Light pollution is also a problem for hatchlings, as they rely on the moon to guide them into the ocean and can become disorientated by alternate light sources.


QPWS staff on the tools at Milman Island to clear washed-up logs and trees to provide access for nesting sea turtles | Photo by QPWS

Where is Milman Island?

Milman Island is a 2km reef islet that makes up part of the Apudthama National Park, formed in 2022 when several national parks on Cape York were handed back to the Gudang/Yadhaykenu, Atambaya, and Angkamuthi (Seven Rivers) peoples. The national parks, now on Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal land (CYPA), are under joint management by Traditional Owners and QWPS to support turtle and seabird nesting, and this ongoing monitoring and conservation of Milman Island is a crucial example.


A turtle hatchling making its way out to sea | Photo by Billy Greenham


Feature image by Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service

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