Aussie scientists turn to drones to protect sea turtles

Aussie scientists turn to drones to protect sea turtles”

Raine Island hosts the largest rookery in the world and, by current estimates, compiled using drones, scientists now believe there are 1.73 times the number of turtles previously counted, amounting to nearly 64,000.

According to a report in CNN, scientists have accurately counted the green sea turtle by deploying drones at the world's largest green turtle rookery.

Footage captured from a drone shows the world's largest group of green sea turtles as they prepare to head ashore in Australia to lay their eggs.

The green turtle is endangered and under threat thanks to hunting, over-harvesting their eggs and loss of beach nesting sites, CNN says.

Turtles nest on Raine Island, far North Queensland, Australia, in this picture taken in December 2019 and made available to Reuters on June 10, 2020.

He continued: "This research is of prime importance to the understanding and management of the vulnerable green turtle population".

"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.

Queensland government
Queensland government

Researchers with the Raine Island Recovery Project were able to count approximately 64,000 turtles using a drone.

Senior research scientist and lead author of the paper Dr Andrew Dunstan told CNN, "Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was hard".

"By using drones we have adjusted historical data. Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored", Dunstan, senior research scientist and lead author of the paper, said.

The creatures 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 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.

Researchers hope in the future to automate the counts from video footage, using artificial intelligence so the computer does the counting for them, the report said.

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