Fears for Great Barrier Reef as turtles and Dugongs starve

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Fears are growing for the health of the inshore Great Barrier Reef's waters after the decaying bodies of hundreds of green turtles and dugongs were found washed ashore along the Queensland coast in recent weeks.

The alarming discoveries are thought to be related to the after effects of the cyclone and flooding that hit the area earlier this year.

Naturalists fear that as many as 6,000 Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and 1,500 Dugong (Dugong dugon) could die through starvation in the coming months after their main source of food, sea grass, was devastated by the extreme weather.

Storm surges caused by the cyclone uprooted large areas of the sea grass beds, while vast quantities of silt swept from the land by the flooding swamped many remaining areas leading to the food shortage.

Dugongs and Green turtles are sometimes called 'lawn mowers of the sea' and are considered vital for the health of the sea grass bed habitat, so the loss of this many could have unknown damaging effects on local marine ecology.

Around 5,500 of the peaceful sea-cows live in the area, but the species has already seen a 95% decline in numbers in the last 50 years and is listed as 'Vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

Green turtles are unusual among sea turtle species, being almost entirely herbivorous, with sea grass their main diet once adult. Sadly they are also under threat throughout their range and are listed as 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List.

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