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A section of Broome’s Cable Beach will be closed for two months during the wet season in a bid to save turtle hatchlings after a report finds nests run over and baby turtles caught in tyre ruts.

The threatened flatback turtle nest in the world-famous beach’s sand dunes during the wet season months of October to March.

But the beach also plays host to recreational drivers seeking warm waters and stunning sunsets.

After a long-running debate, the Broome Shire councillors voted unanimously last night in favour of a proposal to cut off vehicle access to the beach north of the rocks during the peak turtle nesting season of December 1 to January 31.

It comes after a report presented to the council earlier this year, which documented cars driving over turtle nests and hatchlings caught in tyre ruts, recommended the move.

The proposed changes have been before multiple council meetings this year, with councillors deciding to hold a period of public consultation to gauge support for the proposal in September.

Data from the consultation period found in council minutes show more than 700 people responded to the campaign, with more than 90 per cent in support of the proposal and just five per cent against it.

The changes will bolster existing turtle restrictions implemented in 2010, which see the beach closed between 8PM and 6AM from October to February, and two hours on either side of high tides of 9 metres or more.

Councillors support changes
Broome Shire Councillor and the coordinator of the Broome Marine Turtle Rehabilitation Facility, Chris Mitchell, said the closure was a “good result” and will hopefully help hatchlings back to the ocean.

“There’s still some more research to be done. But, at least, it’ll give them a bit better chance of getting down from the nest into the water without struggling through some of the wheel ruts,” he said.

“This will be a good trial system. See how it goes. And, hopefully, we’ll get some good results from this year’s nesting season coming up and go from there.”

Broome Shire president Harold Tracey said there was a “significant” amount of evidence to support the closure during peak nesting season and strong public support for the proposal.

“The data shows us that there’s a lot of little characters that are trying to get to the ocean and get on with their life for a couple of months, and I’m happy that that’s going to happen now,” he said.

“I would like to see that the trial is worth it and that we do see some real robust data on the success of this.

“If that’s the case, then that [the closure] continues. If it’s not the case then we need to look at something else.”

Report, petition trigger changes
The changes come nearly a year after an initial Yawuru Park Council (YPC) report first recommended the closure but was only supported in principle by the council, which determined “further assessment” was needed.

The YPC includes Nyamba Buru Yawuru, the Broome Shire and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).

After another round of investigations in 2021–2022, the latest YPC report found three instances where turtle nests had been driven over and 12 instances where hatchlings had to be helped out of tyre ruts.

“Vehicles are impacting on turtles through interactions with nesting sites [driving over nests], and tyre ruts have impacted on hatchlings,” the report reads.

Last year a petition with more than 1,000 signatures was presented to Broome Shire councillors asking them to workshop better management strategies for flatback turtle hatchlings on Cable Beach.

Speaking to the ABC before the vote took place, the creator of the petition, Rowena Strain, said closing the beach at all times during peak nesting season was better than existing restrictions.

“People do drive on the nests and do create the ruts and do drive on the high tides, and they do all the things that are supposed to be not allowed because it’s not policed,” she said.

“I guess it’s a cost thing. It would cost a lot of money to have a ranger down there all the time. So that’s why shutting the beach is effective and cost-effective.”