Drones help scientists monitor turtles off barrier reef

James Marshall
June 11, 2020

Researchers have captured lovely aerial footage of thousands of green turtles on the edge of Australia's Great Barrier Reef during the nesting season.

In a paper published in highly respected PLOS ONE journal, Dr Andrew Dunstan of DES explained how their research combines science and technology to more effectively count endangered green turtles.

The group discovered, in the research conducted in December, that using drones to monitor green turtle activity was more accurate and much safer than using boats to count them, their research shows.

"From a small boat, we then counted painted and non-painted turtles, but eyes are attracted much more to a turtle with a bright white stripe than an unpainted turtle, resulting in biased counts and reduced accuracy", the report quotes.

Dunstan said trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was hard.

Using drones, the team revealed up to 64,000 turtles swimming around the island waiting to come ashore to lay their eggs.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden told NT News that the work was helping restore the island's critical habitat.

"By using drones we have adjusted historical data", he said.

Green turtles, named after the color of their cartilage and fat, are found mostly in tropical and subtropical waters, and migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches where they emerged as hatchlings, some 35 years after they were born.

The footage has an important scientific goal, as well as being pretty damn cool, in that it allows the scientists from the Queensland government to assess the numbers of green sea turtles that are heading towards North Queensland at the moment.

Green turtles are classified as endangered due to overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being caught in fishing gear and loss of nesting beach sites, according to World Wildlife.

The drone study follows previous attempts to count the population with more complicated and less accurate methods such as painting some turtles and attempting to manually count them from a boat.

"In the future, we will be able to automate these counts from video footage using artificial intelligence so the computer does the counting for us".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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