Sea turtle nesting areas mapping

Queensland’s coast has some of the most important marine turtle nesting sites in the world, with six threatened species known to visit our beaches.

An increasing threat to the survival of turtle hatchlings comes from artificial lighting from coastal development.

Mapping for sea turtle nesting areas is included within Matters of State Environmental Significance (MSES) wildlife habitat mapping to identify significant and very significant nesting beaches for threatened turtles.

The mapping is designed to assist coastal councils and other plan-making entities that want to adopt the Sea Turtle Sensitive Area Model code (the Model Code).

The Model Code is a template for planning requirements that plan-makers can add to local planning schemes to avoid the adverse impacts from artificial lighting on sea turtle nesting and activity.

The mapping is available on:

Which turtle species are mapped

The MSES wildlife habitat (sea turtle nesting areas) mapping considers all threatened (endangered or vulnerable) marine turtle species under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA)[1].

This includes the following species:

  • Green Turtle (vulnerable)
  • Flatback Turtle (vulnerable)
  • Loggerhead Turtle (endangered)
  • Hawksbill Turtle (endangered)
  • Olive Ridley Turtle (endangered)
  • Leatherback Turtle (endangered).[2]

How the mapping was developed

Data from the Marine Turtle Breeding and Migration Atlas Project was analysed to identify beaches where turtle nesting areas for these species’ are:

  • very significant = over 40% of the species or genetic stock rely on the nesting area
  • significant = over 1% of the species or genetic stock rely on the nesting area
  • present = below 1% of the species or genetic stock rely on the nesting area.

Only significant and very significant nesting areas are included within the MSES mapping. This is because the Model Code targets significant turtle nesting areas (not all beaches where turtles nest).

The nesting area linework extends beyond nesting beaches, along nearby rocky coastlines and headlands. This is deliberate and recognises that significant numbers of nesting adults and hatchlings are navigating offshore and can become disoriented by light pollution from development on rocky coastlines and headlands.

Given the general level of interest in turtle data and the option for plan-making agencies to extend planning requirements to locally significant turtle nesting beaches, a mapping layer that distinguishes between all very significant, significant and present categories is also available on:

[1] The lists of extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 can be found in the Nature Conservation (Animals) Regulation 2020, and is searchable via the Threatened Species Listing Report Tool.

[2] No nesting has been recorded for leatherbacks in Queensland since 1996. Any verified nesting beach would be considered very significant.

Guidance for applying the Sea Turtle Sensitive Area Model code

Determining a sea turtle sensitive area buffer

Plan-making entities that choose to add the Sea Turtle Sensitive Area Model code (the Model Code) to a planning scheme will need to map a buffer around the sea turtle nesting area linework to define the sea turtle sensitive area within which the Model Code will apply.

The Australian Government's National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife suggest that light pollution can impact on turtle nesting areas up to 20 kilometres way from the light source. However, the actual buffer distance selected by plan making agencies may vary based on local factors including:

  • significance of the nesting area
  • presence of existing light pollution
  • topography
  • light reflecting from waterbodies
  • ground cover
  • land uses.

The extent of the turtle sensitive area should consider both the impacts of light directly visible from the turtle nesting area and indirect light visible from the turtle nesting area (also known as skyglow).

The Department of Environment and Science (DES) can provide technical assistance to plan-making entities that choose to map sea turtle sensitive areas. Contact planning.support@des.qld.gov.au for further details.

Consideration of nesting seasons

The provisions of the Model Code only need to apply during the nesting season for the relevant species (not all year round). If more than one species is nesting in significant numbers in a sea turtle nesting area, plan-making entities can consider combining the durations of the species’ nesting seasons when drafting their planning scheme amendment.

A table summarising Queensland’s significant turtle nesting areas and associated breeding seasons is provided below.

Summary of Queensland's turtle nesting areas and associated breeding seasons

Common name turtle species

Very significant turtle nesting areas (over 40% of the species or genetic stock rely on the nesting area) (1)

Significant (over 1% of the species or genetic stock rely on the nesting area) (1)

Hot spots for light pollution impacts on turtle nesting areas (2)

Nesting seasons (2)

Southern Great Barrier Reef Green Turtles

Heron Island, Wreck Island, Lady Musgrave Island

Capricorn and Bunker group of islands,
Sandy Cape

Heron Island

Nesting: October–April (peak: late December – early January)

Hatching: December–May (peak: February–March)

Northern Great Barrier Reef Green Turtles

Bramble Cay,
Murray Islands,
Raine Island

Northern Great Barrier Reef cays

n/a

Nesting: October–March (peak: late December – early January)

Hatching: December–May

Gulf of Carpentaria Green Turtles

n/a

Bountiful Islands (Bountiful, Pisonia and Rocky Islands),
Linnoonganee Island,
Manowar Island

n/a

Nesting: Year round (peak: June–August)

Hatching: (peak) August–September

Eastern Queensland Flatback Turtles

Avoid Island
Wild Duck Island Peak Island

Cape Bowling Green,
Wunjunga,
Abbot Point,
Mackay northern beaches (north to Newry Island),
The Percy Group,
Duke Islands,
Curtis Island,
Facing Island

Abbot Point,
Peak Island (southern Capricorn Coast),
Curtis Island and Facing Island (Gladstone),
Mackay northern beaches

Nesting: October–January (peak: late November – early December)

Hatching: December–March (peak: February)

Arafura Sea Flatback Turtles

Deliverance Island
Crab Island Jardine Beach

Western Cape (Jardine Beach to Mapoon)

Western cape ports

Nesting: All year (peak: August–September)

Hatching: All year (peak: September–November)

Hawksbill turtle

MiIman Island,
Possession Island,
Great Woody Island,
Sassie Island, Bourke Group of Islands

Torres Strait Islands

n/a

Nesting: Year round (peak: December–February)

Hatching: Year round (peak: February–May)

Loggerhead Turtle

Woongarra Coast

Lady Musgrave Island,
Agnes Water to Rules Beach,
Moore Park Beach, Capricorn and Bunker group of islands,
North Stradbroke Island,
Sunshine Coast,
Bribie Island

Woongarra Coast, Heron Island, Sunshine Coast, Bribie Island

Nesting: October–March (peak: December–January)

Hatching: December–May (peak: February–March)

Olive Ridley Turtle

Flinders Beach, Mapoon,
Aurukun Main Beach

Western Cape (Jardine Beach to Pormpuraaw), Kowanyama

Western cape ports

Nesting: March–October (peak: July)

Hatching: May–December

Leatherback Turtle

n/a

n/a

n/a

Nesting: December–January

Hatching: February–March

1 Source: Marine Turtle Breeding and Migration Atlas Project, State of Queensland, 2021.

2 Source: Queensland Marine Turtle Conservation Strategy (2021–2031) (PDF, 2.2MB) , Department of Environment and Science, Queensland Government, 2021.

Contributions to the sea turtle mapping database

Agencies or other groups collecting data on marine turtles may be able to contribute to this mapping. Please contact threatened.species@des.qld.gov.au.