Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Science (DES) released drone footage showing a spectacular sight: Up to 64,000 endangered green sea turtles swimming near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia preparing to nest.
The turtles were swimming around Raine Island, a coral cay off the coast of Queensland, Australia, which is thought to be the largest green turtle rookery in the world. The turtles were getting ready to head to shore so they could lay eggs.
In a statement, officials said they were looking for an alternative way to count the endangered turtles after unsuccessfully using white, non-toxic paint. “Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was difficult,” said Andrew Dunstan, a researcher for the DES. “Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored.”
Using the drone footage, they realized the number of sea turtles getting ready to nest was greatly underestimated. “What previously took a number of researchers a long time can now be by one drone operator in under an hour,” said researcher Richard Fitzpatrick from the Biopixel Oceans Foundation.
They were eventually able to count up to 64,000 green turtles, referring to the aggregation as one of the largest ever captured on film.
The discovery is an important step in protecting the future of green turtles, as 11 species of green turtles are listed as either endangered or threatened in the Endangered Species Act. Threats to the species have included recreational fishing, degradation, and loss of habitat.
In their statement, the DES said they’re “taking action to improve and rebuild the island’s nesting beaches and building fences to prevent turtle deaths, all working to strengthen the island’s resilience and ensure the survival of our northern green turtles and many other species.” The Queensland Government and other non-profit organizations are working together for the Raine Island Recovery Project, which works to prevent and restore habitat loss, rescue stranded nesting turtles, and monitor key island species on Raine Island.
With the new ability to track nesting and green turtle populations using drones, hopefully we’re getting closer to making sure these beautiful creatures stick around for a long time.