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Innovative research to discover more about flatback turtles

Flatback turtle ready for release
Flatback turtle ready for release Parks and Wildlife

Baby flatback turtles carrying tiny satellite transmitters will be released into Kimberley waters on 26 May as part of an international project to discover more about their movements as juveniles.

Department of Parks and Wildlife principal scientist Scott Whiting said information provided by the transmitters would help provide vital knowledge about the “lost years” after flatback hatchlings enter the sea.

“Evidence suggests flatback turtles are unique among marine turtles and do not spend their early years in the open ocean, but remain on the continental shelf during their development,” Dr Whiting said.

“This project will help fill in the knowledge gaps about their early movements, important habitats and may provide some insight into why they don’t venture into the open ocean.

“We plan to release 35 four-month-old turtles 4 km offshore at Eighty Mile Beach Marine Park, so they are not exposed to inshore predators and have the best chance of surviving.”

The world-first research is being conducted by a collaborative group of  renowned marine scientists including Dr Whiting and Dr Tony Tucker from Parks and Wildlife, Professor Jeanette Wyneken and Dr Michael Salmon (Florida Atlantic University) and Dr Mark Hamann (James Cook University).

The project is also receiving significant support from AQWA, the Nyangumarta Traditional Owners who are joint managers of Eighty Mile Beach Marine Park with Parks and Wildlife; National Geographic and volunteers.

Dr Whiting said it was the first time neonate, or juvenile, flatback turtles had been tracked with satellite technology.

“These hatchlings were collected at Eighty Mile Beach in January and were raised at AQWA until they each weighed 300 grams or more, so they were big enough to hold a small solar powered satellite transmitter,” he said.

“This is the smallest technology currently available but it is too large to attach to hatchlings straight from the nest.”

The turtles are being weighed, measured and flown to Broome on Monday 25 May.

“Eight of the flatbacks will be fitted with transmitters at the department’s Broome office, before being transported to the release site at Eighty Mile Beach,” Dr Whiting said.

People can track some of the released turtles at www.seaturtle.org/tracking.

For more information about sea turtles in WA visit https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/marine/marine-wildlife/66-marine-turtles-in-western-australia

 

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