How do you count turtles swimming in the ocean? Researchers at Raine Island have resorted to using a drone to estimate their numbers in the area. In an amazing footage captured in December 2019, the drone captured about 64,000 turtles easily visible as they floated about by the water's surface.
Experts say that the turtles were waiting to come ashore to lay their eggs. According to Andrew Dunstan of the Department of Environment and Science, researchers have been trying out various ways to try to enumerate the creatures.
According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, green turtles can be found in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters around the world. They appear to be the most bountiful of the six species of marine turtle found in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
They are usually spotted in subtidal and intertidal coral, rocky reefs, and seagrass meadows of the continental shelf. Green turtles are mostly herbivorous as adults and mainly feed on algae, jellyfish, seagrass, and mangrove fruit.
Dunstan reports that earlier population survey methods resorted to painting a white stripe down the turtles' shells when they were nesting on the beach. The paint they used was non-toxic and washed off in a couple of days.
Onboard a small boat, Dunstan says they counted painted and non-painted turtles. He shares how the method was unreliable since eyes are more attracted to shells with a bright white stripe. As a consequence, it resulted in biased counts and reduced accuracy.
Additionally, he says it was difficult to count the thousands of turtles through rough weather accurately. A drone is more convenient, safer, and accurate, he added. Furthermore, data could also be immediately and permanently stored.
Hooray for Modern Technology
Researchers studied the footage frame by frame to make sure their counts were accurate. According to Richard Fitzpatrick, a research partner from the Biopixel Oceans Foundation, they realized that they had undermined the previous counts by a factor of 1.73.
They say that they have adjusted historical data by using drones. What used to take long hours of counting could now be completed in less than an hour. Anna Marsden, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director, says that the effort was helping the island restore its critical habitat.
According to Marsden, they saw the world's biggest gathering of green turtles through the drone images. Additionally, it tremendously helped in documenting the most substantial turtle numbers seen ever since the Raine Island Recovery Project began.
Furthermore, she says that the research is vital in combining science and technology to count endangered green turtles efficiently. Additionally, she explains about taking action to rebuild the island's resting beaches and building fences to prevent further casualties of turtles.
Marsden says their efforts will be pointed towards strengthening the island's resilience and ensuring the survival of the green turtles as well as other species. Researchers hope to eventually automate the counts directly from the footage with the use of artificial intelligence, wherein the computer does the counting for them.