Media Release


Media Statement

Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef

The Honourable Steven Miles

Friday February 26 2016

Turtle tally on Raine Island enhanced with drone technology

For the first time researchers are using drone technology at a remote Great Barrier Reef sand island in their efforts to save the most important nesting site in the world for green turtles.

Great Barrier Reef and National Parks Minister Dr Steven Miles said unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were deployed to fly over the nesting beaches on Raine Island and count turtles during the day and also at night using low light camera technology.

Raine Island is located on the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef, about 620 kilometres north-west of Cairns, and is the nesting ground for around 60,000 green turtles each year.

The Raine Island Recovery Project is a five-year $7.95 million collaboration between the Queensland Government, BHP Billiton and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and the Wuthathi and Meriam Nations Traditional Owners, to secure the future of Raine Island from tidal inundation and other threats to green turtle reproduction.

“Initial trials of the drone technology have been a success, with minimal impacts on the seabirds which also nest on the island,” Dr Miles said.

“That means researchers can go ahead and include UAVs in the range of techniques they are using in their intensive monitoring program during the current and future nesting seasons on Raine Island.

“The UAVs will make a profound difference to the monitoring of turtles at night, when most nesting occurs.

“They will also provide for far more efficient and accurate topographic mapping, which will be crucial in keeping track of the ongoing changes to the sand profile of the island’s nesting beach.”

Raine Island Recovery Project Manager and turtle researcher Dr Andy Dunstan said early results of the topographic mapping were showing that the reprofiled area of beach was maintaining itself and resulting in more hatchlings being produced.

“The trial has also confirmed that by using drones we will be better able to preserve the sensitive ecology of this natural wonder,” Dr Dunstan said.

Dr Miles said in addition to the UAVs, remote night-time still cameras and daytime controllable video cameras would record images throughout the day and night during the entire year.

“A weather station, tide and wave recorder and nesting depth sand temperature and water inundation sensors are being used to monitor the physical turtle nesting environment,” he said.

“Researchers are also using GoPro cameras to estimate the total numbers of nesting turtles in the waters around Raine Island. 

“Adult turtles will also be tagged with satellite tracking devices to monitor their migration patterns once they leave Raine Island,'' Dr Miles said.

L-R Great Barrier Reef and National Parks Minister Dr Steven Miles, BHP Billiton's Tracey Lenz, project manager Dr Andy Dunstan, Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden

Using drones at Raine Island

Researchers releasing the drone at Raine Island

Using drones at Raine Island

Researchers monitoring the drone at is surveys Raine Island

Aerial mapping of turtles at Raine Island

The view from the air taken from the drone as it surveys turtles