It’s officially the 2012 flatback nesting season and AusTurtle are doing their thing for sea turtle research on Bare Sand Island.
A large population of flatback sea turtles nest at Bare Sand Island during the winter months. During this time, researchers gather data on the nesting turtles to estimate population size, monitor abundance and to determine any threats to survival.
As well flatbacks, the waters around Bare Sand Island support significant numbers of foraging green and hawksbill turtles. Both species are vulnerable to extinction under Australian classification (EPBC Act 1999). Green turtles are internationally classified as endangered and hawksbill turtles are critically endangered internationally (IUCN Red List).
The Austurtle research commenced in 1996 and is supported by Charles Darwin University. The research project is run by Dr Michael Guinea who we affectionately refer to as “the turtle whisperer”.
The environment for the researchers who spend up to two months there each year is harsh. The island is mostly sand and consists of low dunes sparsely vegetated with grasses and herbs. One tree grows on the island but it is unsuitable for shade as it is a sacred site. The island is 1.8 km in circumference and takes about 40 min to walk around. The region is subject to a large tidal range (up to 8 m) and the island is therefore subject to strong currents. Strong winds can occur in the area and this makes camping uncomfortable in the sandy conditions.
One of the tasks of the researchers is to walk the beach every morning to monitor stray hatchlings that might not have made it to the ocean. These hatchlings are recovered and kept until the cover of nightfall, when they are released. One advantage of doing TURTLE TRACKS while the researchers are on the island, is that often you get to assist with the release of these babies. Another advantage is the absolute wealth of information that the researchers share with our guests.
Sea Darwin supports the work of Austurtle, with a contribution from every tour ticket going to their reseach. Last year, this money funded the tagging portion of their project.