Drone films 64,000 turtles nesting off the Great Barrier Reef

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Spectacular drone footage has captured thousands of endangered turtles coming ashore in Queensland, Australia to nest.

Researchers counted 64,000 green sea turtles at the world’s largest green turtle rookery at Raine Island off the Great Barrier Reef.

What makes this event so precious is the fact that green turtles are under threat of extinction from a variety of factors. Their eggs are being harvested, they’re losing more and more of their natural beach habitat and they’re also being caught up in fishing nets.

And while footage like this is heartwarming to see – it hides the fact the turtles aren’t reproducing fast enough and the babies aren’t surviving.

Raine Island in Queensland is the site of the world’s largest green turtle rookery (Credits: via REUTERS)

‘We sort of became aware that although there’s these massive aggregations, the actual reproduction isn’t working so well,’ Dr Andrew Dunstan from Queensland’s Government’s Department of Environment and Science (DES) – which shot the drone footage – told CNN.

The scientists are trying to intervene to save them but needed to find a way to track and count the population. At first, they tried getting out in a boat and painting the shells.

‘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,’ Dunstan said.

The drone results meant the researchers had actually underestimated numbers.

‘We were underestimating that a lot. We’re finding 1.73 times as many turtles with the drone and as we do when we directly compare with the observer counts,’ Dunstan told CNN.

Before using the drones, researcher tried to count the population by getting out in a boat and painting their shells (Credits: via REUTERS)

The researchers can now go back and historically adjust their population records based on the drone data.

Despite the challenges facing the species, green turtles are the most abundant of the six species of marine turtle found in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

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