Dugongs, Turtles Face Mass Starvation After Storm

dugong australia sydney aquarium photo

A dugong in the Sydney Aquarium. Photo: Corrie Barklimore / Creative Commons.

Northeastern Australia may have dried out after devastating floods hit the area early this year, but for dugongs and turtles off the Queensland coast, the natural disaster's effects seem to be just beginning: Hundreds of the animals have been washing up dead onshore near the Great Barrier Reef.The green turtles and dugongs, vulnerable herbivores related to the Florida manatee, are believed by scientists to be victims of the aftermath of the floods and cyclone that hit this part of Australia over the past year, The Telegraph reported today:

Now naturalists fear that up to 1,500 dugongs -- a species of sea cows -- and 6,000 turtles along the Reef are likely to die in the coming months because their main food source, sea grass, which grows on the ocean floor, was largely wiped out by the floods and cyclone.

In some places the plants were ripped from the seabed by currents created by the storms and in others they were inundated under silt and soil washed out from the land by the torrential rains.

The storms' destructive winds, and the pollutants they washed from shore, already stressed the coral beds on the Great Barrier Reef, TreeHugger reported earlier this year. The newly observed deaths compound the threat to the reef's ecology, a protected species expert at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority told The Telegraph, noting the role the grazing animals play in maintaining healthy sea grass beds.

"We don't know what the consequences are," the park's Mark Read said.

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