Lonely Planet Writer

Drones used to protect eggs of nesting sea turtles

The future of the ‘vulnerable’ green sea turtle is being aided by drones. The remote-controlled aircraft are being enlisted as part of a concerted effort to save the world’s most important nesting site on the Great Barrier Reef’s Raine Island in Australia.

Green sea turtles are categorised as 'vulnerable' but the use of drones is less intrusive to hatching and it also picks up data on turtle numbers and state of beaches
Green sea turtles are categorised as ‘vulnerable’ but the use of drones is less intrusive to hatching and it also picks up data on turtle numbers and the state of beaches Image by prilfish / CC BY 2.0

It is estimated that up to 60,000 female green turtles use the island as a nesting place every year – sometimes swimming thousands of miles to lay their eggs there.

Turtle hatchlings can be accounted for in a non-intrusive way on Raine Island
Turtle hatchlings can be accounted for in a non-intrusive way on Raine Island by using drones

According to 9news.com.au, rising sea levels and changes to the landscape has put this important nesting side under serious threat and in an attempt to protect the species, drones are being employed to monitor the island’s changing topography and keep an eye on the number of turtles on the island.

The successful trial saw the drones flying at 50 metres above the ground and Dr Andy Dunstan, the project manager, said feedback from the data showed that the beach was maintaining itself, resulting in more turtle hatchings.

He said drones were less intrusive and enabled them to preserve the sensitive ecology of the island, which was a natural wonder.

Almost AUS$8 million has been allocated by different agencies to spend on the protection of Raine Island from tidal flooding and other dangers to the green turtle.

At present the species has a ‘vulnerable’ status because they rely on low-lying coastal habitat to lay their eggs.