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Home » Headline (Archive) » 2 November 2012

Australia: Turtles totally tagless 2 Nov 2012

By Steven Schubert

On a remote stretch of the Northern Territory's coast line, three people are starting to walk along a sandy beach as the sun sets.

They're on the lookout for green turtles - which are internationally listed as an endangered species - nesting on the beach.

It's a full moon night, so with the sun to their backs and the low, red, moon rising in front of them, they head out for their 11th straight night of patrols on the Coburg Peninsula.

In a straight line, the Peninsula is only about 500 kilometres north east of Darwin, on the same latitude as the Tiwi Islands.

But by car it's a full-day drive, through remote Arnhem Land, and over dusty, corrugated dirt roads.

The three people on patrol tonight are there with Conservation Volunteers Australia; two of them are giving up their time, and actually paying a significant amount of money to take part in the turtle survey.

They've been living in tents for almost two weeks, trying to sleep in the heat of the day, and the only facilities are a pit toilet and a cold, gravity fed shower.

But the main reason they're here is the turtle patrol, and CVA marine species manager Glenn McFarlane is leading the group on its three hour shift.

"We'll walk 3.5 kilometres in this direction, stopping along the way having breaks, and hopefully waiting for nesting green turtles making their way out of the water.

"We'll have a break at the end, turn around and then walk back another 3.5 kilometres to where we started."

The aim is to tag the turtles after they've laid their nests, which allows Glenn and his colleagues to collect important data to help with the conservation of the animals.

There is, however, one small problem with an otherwise brilliant plan.

"For the first time in six years we're yet to come across a nesting green turtle," says Glenn.

"It's most strange; they must simply be coming later this season."

Geoff Cox has travelled all the way from Maroochydore in Queensland to take part in the turtle survey, and says he's been happy to give up his time to make the trip, even though he hasn't seen a green turtle yet.

"I wanted to give something back to the environment, and I wanted to go somewhere that was a little bit different for a holiday, remote and away from technology and all other sorts of distractions so it just fitted in nicely.

"Camping up here has been fantastic, the people up here have been great; all we need now is the turtles.

"Morale would be better if we saw the turtle, but it's been pretty good. We're like minded people up here which have been really great to hang out with."

As we walk along the beach, the other volunteer Rowshni Ahmed sweeps the beach with a strong spotlight, looking for anything we might not want to walk into.

Saltwater crocodiles, for instance.

The group have usually seen one or two a night on the beach, and they're visible from a good distance away because their eyes reflect in the torch light.

"It's quite easy to see them from far off, I'd say from 100 to 200 metres or even more you can see the big red eye really clearly," Rowshni says.

"More often than not these two, or 2.5 metre crock run seem to run away from the spotlight.

"The other day we had someone surfing along the beach with us for a kilometre or so though."

There's also a local crocodile, Stumpy, at the other end of the beach the group have been warned about.

"He's known as Stumpy because he has one leg missing, and we've seen his tracks lying around the place."

We have to walk up the beach a little bit, as Glenn likes to keep at least six metres away from the water's edge.

It means we're walking on loose, dry sand, and it's surprisingly hard going.

It's also uncomfortably humid, and still pretty warm, probably around 30 degrees. There's an offshore breeze blowing, but at times even it is almost uncomfortably hot.

But we take our time and meander along, taking breaks along the way and it's not too hard.

By the end of the beach we haven't seen anything - croc or turtle - so we turn around and start the 3.5 kilometre walk back.

"It's a relaxing walk back for us, probably some star gazing, and just waiting for any late turtles to waddle up, and then we head back home," says Rowshni.

There are no turtles on the return trip, but it's hard to say that walking along a beautiful, remote beach by moonlight is disappointing.

But still, I'd come for the turtles, so the next night I headed out with the other patrol group, led by a German named Anna, who also works for CVA.

Anna's team also haven't seen any turtles in 12 nights of patrols, but as we start walking along the beach she's brimming with certainty.

"We're going to find one in half an hour, I'm very confident," she boldly predicts.

So that would mean that at exactly 7:46pm we should be seeing a turtle.

"If it's not a turtle, it's going to be a crocodile," she adds.

For the next half an hour we walk along the beach and nothing much happens.

At exactly 7:45pm though, the volunteer with the spotlight stops us. She's seen a glowing red eye in the distance - and it's not running away!

"We just spotted something so we're just getting a bit closer to get an idea what it is, and it might be a crocodile lying lazy on the beach.

"We put the spotlight on it and usually it runs straight back into the water, but we don't get close or anything. We keep a good distance and if it doesn't move we go around it, but with lots and lots of distance."

It's right at the end of the beach and as we get to maybe within a hundred metres of it, Anna decides we're close enough - as we're at the point where they usually turn around anyway.

"It could be Stumpy the big crocodile waiting for us," she says jokingly.

"This is where we turn around anyway, so we'll head back to the other end of the beach."

So there are no turtles to be spotted for my second night in a row, but it's the groups twelth night on patrol.

There's another patrol heading out from 2am to 5am after us, and they have no luck either.

It's bad luck for the volunteers not to see what they travelled all that way for, but they do get to spend the day fishing, reading books in a hammock and trying to catch up on some sleep.

So even without seeing any green turtles nesting, no one's really complaining too much.

Source: //
Actual link: http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2012/s3624458.htm?site=darwin

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