In search of Darwin Turtle, it was no romantic, steamy top end sunset cruise for Catherine Best. On our roughest Turtle Tracks journey for 2015, she joined us aboard the Snubfin to experience Charles Point’s wrath on her way to Bare Sand Island. And with literary pzazz, her reflections equated the journey to the challenges that the Bare Sand Island flatback hatchlings have on their journey to the sea. Catherine’s article Hang With the Turtles of Bare Sand Island has been published as a “Pointy End” article with Tiger Tales magazine.
Our dry season journey to Bare Sand Island to see the turtles is certainly for those with the spirit of adventure. With seven years of experience of journeying through Darwin Harbour and rounding Charles Point we are well aware of, and well prepared for, whatever the sea gods dish up. For the most part, we experience smooth seas; sometimes we have a little jiggle as we round the point, and about one in 10 trips is wet and wild on the way down. Our experience tells us that the return journey is generally calm with the dark sea reflecting either the full moon or the milky way. With the years of experience the Turtle Tracks skipper has good insight into what will be, and this is shared with guests prior to departure. Whatever the experience, Turtle Tracks is adventure tourism. We travel by fast boat, we visit a remote location, and nature dictates at all times. Turtle Tracks is at “the pointy end” of tourism, NT style.
In 2015 nature dictated that every Turtle Tracks guest witnessed turtles nesting, on their beach on their own terms. In addition 50% of our guests saw turtle hatchlings take their first plunge into the ocean. We saw the full life cycle of turtle from the eggs being laid, to the hatchlings emerging, to girls returning multiple times to nest, and even turtle carcasses on the beach. We had a crocodile welcoming us to Bare Sand Island on 3 occasions, and we saw countless seabirds who call the island home when it’s hatchling season. And as a very special experience, on 4 occasions we had wolf herrings jump into our boat on the way home. To compliment all of these experiences, Turtle Tracks guests are accompanied on the island by Team Turtle, our highly skilled and experienced guides, most of whom have marine science qualifications, and all of whom have a wealth of knowledge about Bare Sand Island’s inhabitants.
In 2015 we were fortunate to work closely with Austurtle who spent 7 weeks continuing their research on Bare Sand Island. Over that period the research team collected data from 300 nesting turtles, they excavated 150 hatched nests to find that there was an 80% success rate in those nests. At the end of the season the team placed tracking devices on 4 turtles. Two of these were flatback turtles who have gone to shoals off the Northern Kimberley coast to feed. Another tracker was placed on a young male hawksbill turtle who, for a 100 days, has been within a kilometre off Bare Sand Island. Over this time he pops up at the same place on the spring tides. This young lad is clearly one of the lucky ones, with Austurtle finding that this year there was a 50% bird mortality for hatchlings.
As Catherine Best pointed out there are challenges for hatchlings as they make their way to the sea, just as there are as we make our way to that unique and remote bare sand island in Bynoe Harbour.