Scientists from the Queensland Government's Department of Environment and Science captured the footage using a drone

By Claudia Harmata
June 10, 2020 04:06 PM

Thousands of green turtles have been photographed and recorded nesting on the edge of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The spectacular footage was taken at Raine Island, the world’s largest green turtle rookery, by researchers from the Queensland Government's Department of Environment and Science (DES) with a drone.

"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," Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said in a statement.

"This important research combines science and technology to more effectively count endangered green turtles," she added. "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."

Green turtles are found mostly in tropical and subtropical waters. They migrate long distances between feeding grounds and are considered endangered due to hunting, over-harvesting of their eggs, loss of beach-nesting sites, and becoming trapped in fishing nets.

Christian Miller

While Raine Island is the biggest remaining turtle nesting site in the world, scientists have noticed that turtles were not reproducing at numbers that were expected due to the dangerous terrain and nests flooding, CNN reported.

"We sort of became aware that although there are these massive aggregations, the actual reproduction isn't working so well," Dr. Andrew Dunstan told CNN, explaining that his team observed turtles falling off cliffs or becoming trapped in the heat.

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Marsden said in her statement that the foundation has been working to improve the island's conditions for the turtles.

"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," she said.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Queensland Government

Prior to using the drones, scientists attempted to record the number of turtles by painting the turtles' shells with a white stripe of non-toxic paint when they gathered on the beach. However, when counting the turtles, researchers said the method resulted "in biased counts and reduced accuracy," pushing them to turn to drones.

Using the devices, researchers counted up to 64,000 turtles swimming to the island to lay their eggs.

"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," researcher Richard 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."