Are you ready for some good news? Especially if you love sea turtles, you’re going to love this!

Raine Island, which is just off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, is home to the largest green turtle rookery in the world. Until recently, researchers had relied on men in a boat out in the water to count the sea turtle population. In 2019, they did something a little bit different.

In December 2019, researchers took to the sky via a drone to capture the sea turtle population from the air, and the footage is stunning. 

Anna Marsden, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director, made the following comment about the footage.

“We’re seeing the world’s largest aggregation of green turtles captured in these extraordinary drone images that are helping to document the largest turtle numbers seen since we began the Raine Island Recovery Project. This important research combines science and technology to more effectively count endangered green turtles.”

Researchers counted 64,000 green sea turtles in the drone footage. All of these turtles were headed to Raine Island to lay their eggs. Watch the stunning footage yourself in the video below.

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Researchers are excited by how much easier the drone footage makes it to accurately count the sea turtles. Dr Andrew Dunstan from the Department of Environment and Science (DES) explained how scientists attempted to count sea turtles in previous years.

“Previous population survey methods involved painting a white stripe down the green turtles’ shell when they were nesting on the beach. The paint is non-toxic and washes off in a couple of days.

From a small boat, we then counted painted and non-painted turtles, but eyes are attracted much more to a turtle with a bright white stripe than an unpainted turtle, resulting in biased counts and reduced accuracy.”

He went on to explain how the new method of using drone footage to count the sea turtles is a huge improvement.

“Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was difficult. Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored.”

Having accurate data is important especially since all species of green sea turtles are currently listed as endangered or threatened on the Endangered Species Act. Threats to sea turtles include being caught by recreational or commercial fishing gear and habitat loss.

We’re excited that researchers have discovered an effective way to count the sea turtles. It’s an amazing bonus that they can also share the stunning footage with the world!