Posted by: The ocean update | July 8, 2015

Whale, dugong and turtle populations still reeling from past fishing practices (Australia)

A young woman rides on the back of a loggerhead turtle at Mon Repos Beach, near Bundaberg, in the 1930s. (State Library of Queensland)

A young woman rides on the back of a loggerhead turtle at Mon Repos Beach, near Bundaberg, in the 1930s. (State Library of Queensland)

July 8th, 2015 (Paula Tapiolas and Kathleen Calderwood). Can you imagine riding a turtle or fishing for dugongs ? These actions sound unthinkable but they were both once considered completely acceptable in the Great Barrier Reef.

Mark Read from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says these practices are still affecting species today, even though they’ve been outlawed for decades.

“Some of the animals that were affected have got very long life histories, so what happened 100 years ago is actually still influencing our population today,” he said.

The harvesting of dugongs began in 1847 and continued for over a century, despite the fact that the animals were officially declared as protected in 1888.

Dugong oil was used in cosmetics and for various ailments, while their hides were used as a high grade leather.

“That came at a real price … they actually recognised that they were having problems finding enough dugongs for the harvest and they instituted the first closure of the harvest in 1890 – that ran for two years,” he said.

“Even that long ago they recognised the impact that they were having on the population, so it’s astounding that that harvest continued through until 1969.”

Mr Read says green and hawksbill turtles were also harvested until the 1930s.

Hawksbill turtles were used for their shells, while the green turtles were used for meat and to make turtle soup.

Central Queensland tourist attraction Heron Island actually started as a turtle soup factory, before the operation became unviable and was transformed into a resort.

Turtle riding was also a common practice among tourists on Heron Island and other tourist spots in the Great Barrier Reef.

Whale tales

Mr Read says one of the most fantastic events that happens on the Great Barrier Reef is the migration of humpback whales every winter.

But whales were intensively harvested off the Queensland coast only half a century ago.

“That didn’t stop until 1963,” Mr Read said.

“Tangalooma whaling station on Moreton Bay, just off Brisbane … they recorded 6,277 humpback whales through their processing plant.

“That stopped once again because it became economically unviable, but also because of international pressure about not harvesting whales.”

Mr Read says whales, turtles and dugongs are great examples of how far the management of the Great Barrier Reef has come.

“Even some of the fishing techniques back in the old days … people used to go out and set monstrous great big nets and use them to harvest dugongs,” he said.

“Given that dugongs have got such a high level of protection [now], that’s just an illustration of the fact that we’ve come so far in recognising just how much influence we have on some of these long lived species.”

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