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Melissa and juvenile green rodeo PNG.jpg

— Melissa Staines PHD Candidate

I’ve been passionate about marine life ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved the ocean and for the first 10 years of my life I was always out in the boat fishing with my Mum and Dad. I went to university at The University of Queensland, Australia to do a Bachelor of Science with an extended major in Marine Biology. 

During my undergrad, I did a summer research project at Mon Repos Turtle Rookery in central Queensland (QLD). Over those 3 months I developed my skills in research and experimental design and had the opportunity to work with Loggerheads (Caretta caretta), Greens (Chelonia mydas) and Flatbacks (Natator depressus) which are endemic to Australia but have been seen feeding in the shallow water between PNG and Torres Strait.

My project at Mon Repos developed our understanding about egg mortality associated with root invasion of the nest. We found that the clutches of eggs relocated into full-sun areas with no surrounding vegetation had greater hatching success than clutches that were relocated in tree-shaded areas with grasses surrounding the nest. You can find the article published in the peer-reviewed journal, Acta Oecologica.

In 2019, I started an honours post-grad research project on Milman Island, located 20km east of the Cape York Peninsula, Australia in the northern Great Barrier Reef (nGBR). My project was in collaboration with WWF Australia, Koala Mattresses (sponsor) and the QLD Government. This island is a nesting site for a couple hundred Hawksbill turtles (Erectmochelys imbricata) and fewer than 50 Green turtles. The purpose of the study was to identify the best way to cool down sea turtle nests, this is because we know that sea turtles have their sex determined by the temperature of the sand. Warmer sand (generally above 29˚C) produces more females, which is what researchers have predicted with the onset of climate change. We conducted a sand cooling project using a variety of different cooling methods in order to produce male-biased clutches, however no substantial results could be obtained due to it being the wettest summer in 10 years. You can imagine my disappointment. However, we were able to get some important information about the effect of rainfall on sand temperatures, which developed further into theories about how sea turtles coped with climate change in the past. You can read more about the Turtle Cooling Project on the WWF Australia website.

The research ongoing in Conflict Islands has been extremely important in developing these theories. In the 2018/19 season, the Conflict Island Initiative conducted a small scale version of the Milman Island study. This season (2019/20), we have placed data loggers on Panasesa and Irai Island to establish base line sand temperatures. During my time in the Conflicts, I learned so much from my PNG brothers and sisters about their culture, island life, turtle husbandry and their own techniques. I’m excited to return to visit PNG in the near future, as these populations of Hawksbills and Green turtles are at threat to poaching, egg harvest and climate change.

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