The Apudthama women on the beach for hawksbill turtles

In February, an all-female team hit the beach for 8 nights of turtle monitoring on the small sandy island in the northern Great Barrier Reef known as Milman Island. The team consisted of Margaret, Angelina and Myiesha from the Apudthama Ranger program, Loice from the Torres Strait 
Regional Authority (TSRA), Kerri, Coordinator for the Western Cape Turtle Threat Abatement Alliance (WCTTAA) and myself, Johanna, Program Manager for Sea Turtle Foundation.

For eight beautiful moonlit nights we patrolled the beaches looking for any green or hawksbill turtles that had hauled themselves out of the water to lay their eggs. Armed with a head torch, flipper tags and a measuring tape we walked through the soft sand and waited patiently for our reptilian girls to finish laying their eggs so we could record all of the necessary information as part of the on-going study of the annual nesting turtle population. Waiting was always done with a wary eye pointed toward the water, keeping a look out for the tell-tale red eye-shine of the island’s resident crocodiles.

Our eight nights were the final leg in what had been an intensive five-week monitoring program, which involved the NPARC/Apudthama Rangers, the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, WCTTAA, WWF, TSRA and of course Sea Turtle Foundation. It was a mammoth effort to make it all happen and none of it would have been possible without the amazing logistical organisation by the Apudthama Rangers.

Prior to 2016, the Apudthama Indigenous Rangers were all men. When the new team of women was recruited, they were not able to go on these remote trips with the men, so this was their first chance to take control of turtle monitoring and management activities. During the 8 days, the team learned about nesting turtles, how to monitor nesting activities and accurately record flipper tag information.

During the often wet and steamy days, there was also time to discuss ideas for programs to work
 with kids and the broader community to increase local understanding and appreciation of the local turtle populations. It is hoped that this can act as the first step in helping the rangers spread their turtle protection message.

Loice, who has worked with turtles for many years in the Torres Strait was a fabulous addition to the team. She gave us all a wonderful insight into how their turtle program has developed over the years and the ways that they get the whole community involved in discussions about how they can protect and conserve their turtles.

During the eight nights of monitoring, a total of 85 hawksbills and 60 green turtle visits were made to the island. Not all of these resulted in nests, but it was certainly enough to keep us all busy. All of the data we collected were provided to the Queensland Government as part of their efforts to better understand what is happening to hawksbill turtle populations in the western Pacific. Monitoring over the past 20 years suggests a worrying decline in hawksbill numbers and has formed the basis for the Government recently recommending an up-listing the status of the species from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered' in Queensland.

Thanks to the Norman Wettenhall Foundation who made Sea Turtle Foundation’s participation in this work possible.