VIDEO | Incredible sight captured on the Great Barrier Reef

RAINE ISLAND RECOVERY PROJECT

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Stunning sight: Raine Island turtle aggregation. Image: Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Queensland Government.
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Incredible footage has been released of tens of thousands of green turtles swimming off Raine Island in the Great Barrier Reef.


Researchers at Raine Island, the world’s largest green turtle rookery, have used a drone to conduct accurate population surveys, as part of the Raine Island Recovery Project, showing up to 64,000 green turtles around the island waiting to come ashore and lay clutches of eggs.

Dr Andrew Dunstan from the Department of Environment and Science (DES) and lead author of the paper said researchers had been investigating different ways of conducting turtle population surveys with new research published this week finding drones to be most efficient survey method.

“Previous population survey methods involved painting a white stripe down the green turtles’ shell when they were nesting on the beach. The paint is non-toxic and washes off in a couple of days,” Dr Dunstan said.

“Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was difficult. Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored.”

The drone vision was analysed, frame by frame in the laboratory, reducing observer error and allowing accurate counts on painted and unpainted turtles.

“The ratio of unpainted and painted turtles allowed us to estimate the total population for last December to be 64,000 green turtles waiting to nest on the island,” Dr Dunstan said.

Research partner Richard Fitzpatrick from the Biopixel Oceans Foundation said vessel-based counts were inaccurate.

“When we compared drone counts to observer counts, we found that we had under-estimated the numbers in the past by a factor 1.73,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

“By using drones, we have adjusted historical data. What previously took a number of researchers a long time can now be by one drone operator in under an hour.”

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden congratulated the researchers on their outstanding work and results.

“We’re seeing the world’s largest aggregation of green turtles captured in these extraordinary drone images that are helping to document the largest turtle numbers seen since we began the Raine Island Recovery Project,” Ms Marsden said.

“This important research combines science and technology to more effectively count endangered green turtles.

“Raine Island is the world’s largest green turtle nesting site and that’s why we’re working with our Raine Island Recovery Project partners to protect and restore the island’s critical habitat.

“We’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 five-year, $7.95 million Raine Island Recovery Project is a partnership between BHP, the Queensland Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Wuthathi and Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) Traditional Owners.


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