Sandy beaches provide essential nesting habitat for sea turtles but are threatened globally by a rapidly changing climate. Identifying which nesting sites are at greatest risk from erosion and inundation remains an important goal of sea turtle conservation globally. Yet, efforts to identify at-risk sites have been hindered by the ability to model complex processes and incomplete information on nesting distribution and abundance. To assess the erosion and inundation risk to the reproductive success of a discrete genetic stock of flatback turtles (Natator depressus) across its nesting range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, we used the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs (InVEST) Coastal Vulnerability Model. A relative exposure index was calculated for 402 nesting beaches in terms of six geophysical variables: wind and wave exposure, surge potential, relief, observed sea level rise and coastal geomorphology, and coupled with published information on the distribution and abundance of turtle tracks in the region. The majority of beaches (74%) had an intermediate to high exposure. In particular, 36% of beaches with a high abundance of flatback tracks (the top 25% of the frequency distribution) had a high exposure (the top 25% of the frequency distribution). This suggests that coastal exposure is a key vulnerability to the reproductive success of sea turtles that nest in this region. Promisingly, five beaches with a high abundance of turtle tracks also had a low exposure (bottom 25% of the frequency distribution) and these beaches may be critical for the long-term resilience of the stock against sea level rise and severe storms. Exposure varied across nesting sites and the approach presented here allows for a rapid and broadscale assessment of relative erosion and inundation risks at a scale most relevant to management.
|Date made available||12 Apr 2023|