Green sea turtles thrive in Raine Island recovery project off far north Queensland


A project to raise the height of a remote island off far north Queensland to help save the world’s most important nesting site for thousands of green sea turtles has saved eggs and hatchlings, researchers say.

Raine Island, about 620 kilometres north-east of Cairns and inaccessible to the public, is the nesting ground for about 60,000 green turtles every year.

Researchers have been reshaping parts of the beach to protect the breeding grounds and used pool fencing to help turtles falling off sand cliffs as part of the Raine Island Recovery Project.

Drones were used to survey the re-shaped island’s area to help keep it above the flooding level throughout the 2015-2016 nesting season.

Anna Marsden, managing director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, said early results marked a positive start for the five-year project.

« The signs are really good and we hope that we expand it across the whole island, » she said.

« We believe, even since last season just gone, we’ve saved 400 sea turtles, just by putting up small bits of fences to stop them falling over just tiny little sand cliffs.

« The drone technology has been a really great way to understand how the turtles behave, where they’re moving, why there might be different conditions affecting the low level of hatching, and the low level of laying. »

Hundreds of green sea turtles nesting on tiny Raine Island, about 620 kilometres north-east of Cairns in far north Queensland

Ms Marsden said Raine Island was « absolutely unique ».

« There is no island like it in the world where so many turtles come together and lay their eggs, » she said.

« There’s been so many great learnings about how to remediate an ecosystem, how to use drone technology to understand the habits of the marine and the wildlife. »

Queensland National Parks Minister Dr Steven Miles said the « bold conservation project » had kept the beach stable and turtle eggs safe.

« When I met with David Attenborough last year for the release of his documentary, he said it was one of the most amazing places in the world he had been — and that’s a pretty exclusive list, » Dr Miles said.

« With these funds we’ve been able to prove that we can reshape the beaches and fence the cliffs and greatly increase the number of turtles that survive back into the ocean, to come back to Raine Island one day and lay nests of their own. »

He said the project had been successful largely due to using new drone technology to « show people exactly what Raine Island looks like filled with thousands and thousands of turtles ».

« The scientists who have been visiting Raine Island year after year tell me they can do a survey in half-an-hour that used to take them more than a day, » he said.

« The drones meant that topographic mapping was easier to obtain, and minimised any impact on the environment, helping preserve the sensitive ecology of this natural wonder.

« The same technology will be used to continue monitoring so that the longer-term resilience of the changes can be determined ».Raine Island, about 620 kilometres north-east of Cairns