Drone Footage Captures More Than 64,000 Turtles Near the Great Barrier Reef

The mesmerizing aerial footage shows the sea turtles swimming along the Great Barrier Reef towards the shores of North Queensland to lay eggs. By Jeninne Lee-St. John

Jun 11, 2020

The hypnotic video of 64,000 endangered green sea turtles looking like so many Christmas lights on an undulating turquoise tree (or the world’s largest pair of critter shorts) is more than a great ad for protecting the Great Barrier Reef. It’s further evidence that drones will inherit the earth.

Raine Island, in super-far north Queensland, is the world’s largest green turtle rookery. But just how many of everyone’s favorite save-the-ocean icon lay their eggs there? Figuring out how to count these migrating mamas turned out to be the $64,000 question. 

Researchers from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science use non-toxic, soluble white paint to mark turtles nesting on the beach at night. In the past, they then waited for those turtles to head back into the sea and, from a boat in the middle of the bale, visually counted the ratio of painted to unpainted ones to calculate the total of those who swim hundreds of kilometers to Raine Island each year.

The attention-catching white stripes drew eyes away from the unpainted turtles, lead researcher Dr. Andrew Dunstan said, leading the team to underestimate their numbers—and those overall.

Mechanizing the process drastically reduced observer bias. Researchers shot GoPros underwater and flew drones overhead, then analyzed the footage frame by frame. “We’re finding 1.73 times as many turtles with the drone and as we do when we directly compare with observer counts,” Dunstan told CNN.

Now that the Raine Island Recovery Project has an accurate turtle tally, they can better track and protect them, and shore up the nesting beaches. These heroes in a half-shell deserve it.


Culture

Fit for a Raja

Rajasthan is littered with the former forts, castles and chateaux of the Rajput Maharajas who ruled the region for centuries. On a royal tour of new palatial digs turned into heritage hotels, Rachna Sachasinh finds luxurious renewal projects that manage to conjure the community spirit of far humbler abodes.

Food & Drink

These Bartender-Recommended Regional Spirits are the Souvenirs You Should Actually Be Taking Home

Rojak gin? Fancy Thai rum? Bring these bottles home instead of the elephant print pants.

Food & Drink

Bangkok’s Multi-Stellar Michelin Masters

The long waiting lists at these restaurants are worth the wait.

Inspiration

5 Reasons to Travel in November

T+L’s monthly selection of trip-worthy places, experiences and events.