With turtle nesting season fast approaching, TurtleCare Sunshine Coast has had to think outside the box to protect endangered loggerhead turtle nests on North Bribie Island.
An initial two-week trial kicks off in November, to see if a drone can be used to monitor the beach for turtle tracks, with the view to extending the experiment for the season if it is successful.
Sunshine Coast Council’s TurtleCare coordinator Kate Hofmeister says the eye in the sky is a safe way volunteers can continue to monitor the 1.1km stretch of beach at North Bribie Island, which was cut off due to the breakthrough earlier this year.
“We want to apply the same level of monitoring effort that our volunteers have been doing via foot, bicycle and boat since we began monitoring there since 2014,” Mrs Hofmeister says.
“These nests are still at risk from predators such as native goannas or foxes – so it’s still important to identify nests, protect the clutches and be able to relocate them if necessary.
“Before the breakthrough our dedicated TurtleCare volunteers, would travel by boat each morning to Bribie Island and ride a bike down 10 – 15km of beach checking for turtle tracks.”
Mrs Hofmeister says they will still continue to do that on the main portion of the island.
“It is logistically challenging and at times unsafe for our citizen scientists to access North Bribie each day by boat or foot due to unstable sand,” she said.
“We are grateful to be able to partner with people who are really experienced in their field, such as our newest TurtleCare volunteer Doug from Bluey’s Photography.
“During the trial, Doug – the drone operator – will fly over the beach in two sweeps in the early morning, checking for tracks.
“When we detect tracks, a trained TurtleCare volunteer will travel to the island via kayak or small boat to confirm the nest and protect it.”
“If it is feasible, we will extend the trial for the season and train our dedicated community TurtleCare citizen scientist to fly the drones with the support of Bluey’s Photography with Dr Javier Leon from the University of the Sunshine Coast helping to analyse the drone images.”
TurtleCare volunteers will start patrolling local beaches for turtle tracks from November 1, with turtle nesting season expected to kick off on the Sunshine Coast in mid-November.