Schoolchildren in Cape York and the Torres Strait are following two very special green turtles which are nesting this season on remote Raine Island on the northern tip of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
More than 100 students from four primary schools in the regions representing the Wuthathi Nation and Kemer Kemer Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) – the Traditional Owners of Raine Island – took part in a competition to name the turtles which were fitted with satellite tracking devices as part of the ongoing Raine Island Recovery Project.
Great Barrier Reef and National Parks Minister Dr Steven Miles congratulated the winners, from Lockhart River State School and the Torres Strait island of Mer, who named the turtles Tokolou and Mertle, respectively.
“Tokolou, the name chosen by the pupils at Lockhart River State School, is the common language name for turtle used from the top of Cape York to Princess Charlotte Bay,” Dr Miles said.
“Students from the Torres Strait island of Mer won the naming rights for another tagged turtle with Mertle – a combination of Mer and turtle.”
The Raine Island Recovery Project is a five-year, $7.95 million collaboration between BHP Billiton, the Queensland Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Wuthathi Nation and the Kemer Kemer Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) Traditional Owners and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said the project team chose three turtles for satellite tracking that had all been previously tagged by researchers at Raine Island.
“It’s exciting to know that we can watch where each turtle goes throughout a whole nesting season and build on the history that researchers already have from previous sightings,” Ms Marsden said.
“Scientists monitoring the program will be able to tell whenever and wherever they come up to lay their eggs and where they go in between nesting attempts.
“This will provide much-needed information to help the scientists protect these incredible creatures and help ensure the species’ survival.”
BHP Billiton staff, who are keenly following the progress of Raine Island’s turtles, chose the name Turturi – a shortening of the Latin word ‘turturibus’.
BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) Asset President Rag Udd said the Latin name – for which one of its translations is turtle – resonated with his team for two reasons.
“It’s an ancient word in modern times and our industry finds ‘ancient’ minerals and uses them to support our modern world. We also regularly come across acronyms and shortened forms of terminology in our business, so shortening turturibus to Turturi seemed a good fit,” Mr Udd said.
“Our staff are very proud to be associated with such a globally significant project for the Great Barrier Reef and are keenly interested in following the progress of these Raine Island turtles using satellite technology.
BHP Billiton staff have also been following the journey of another special turtle that had a satellite tracker attached last season. Named Maturin, after a guardian turtle character from a popular novel seriesthat holds the Earth on its shell, she was one of Raine Island’s first turtles to have her behaviour monitored during the project’s first nesting season.
Dr Miles said the turtles don't seem to be bothered by the satellite tracking devices.
“Turtles often have barnacles growing on their shells so the device isn’t much different from their normal experience,” he said.
“After about 12 months the devices will fall off as the turtle sheds the outer layer of her shell which is made from an organic compound similar to what makes our fingernails.”
Raine Island green turtles selected for satellite tracking:
Mertle was first tagged on Raine Island in 1992 and researchers saw her five years later in 1997 and again in 2002. She was fitted with a satellite tracker on 2 November 2016, 14 years after she was last sighted at Raine Island. Despite missing half of her right hind flipper, Mertle is otherwise in perfect health.
Mertle has remained in the vicinity of Raine Island since she was fitted with the satellite tracker, coming ashore on multiple occasions to the nesting beach on Raine as well as nearby Moulter Cay.
Tokolou was seen nesting on Raine Island the night after she was fitted with her satellite tracker, also on 3 November 2016. Since then, she’s returned to the nesting beach four times and remains in the vicinity of the island.
Tokolou was first tagged by researchers in July 2006 in the foraging grounds of Coombe Island Reef, south of Lockhart River. In December that year she was at Raine Island for the nesting season.
Turturi was first tagged at Raine Island in November 1984 and was next seen by researchers on the island 15 years later in December 1999. Since being selected for the satellite monitoring program on 3 November 2016, Turturi came ashore twice in one night on 5 November and has not yet visited a nesting beach since. She remains in the vicinity of Raine Island.
We can watch where each turtle goes throughout a whole nesting season and build on the history that researchers already have from previous sightingsGreat Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director, Anna Marsde