AI technology boosting fledgling turtle survival rates

18 February 2021

The Morrison Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is bringing together scientists, the latest AI technology and the traditional knowledge of Cape York Indigenous rangers to boost the survival rates of turtle hatchlings in Australia’s remote far north.

NESP is supporting a collaboration between technology giant Microsoft, CSIRO and Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) Cape York to give rangers critical, real-time information to protect endangered turtle nests from feral predators.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the world-first AI-infused cloud-based system would make a real difference to the work of local rangers and to the survival rates of sea turtles.

“As few as 1 in 1000 sea turtle hatchlings survive the perilous journey from nest to ocean and adulthood because of feral pigs and other predators, and that is why the Australian Government is supporting direct actions to protect the turtles,” Minister Ley, who recently visited turtle sites at Mon Repos and Raine Island, said.

“This technology analyses vision gathered from drones and helicopters to identify turtle nests and their predators, which in turn enables the rangers to pinpoint their feral predator eradication activities and put mitigation measures in place.

“Protection for turtles and feral pig control in Cape York is also one of the priorities of the $28 million funding I recently announced to protect Queensland’s environment.”

Project leader, CSIRO’s Dr Justin Perry, explained that on some western Cape York beaches, feral pigs can dig up and eat 100 per cent of turtle nest eggs, resulting in no hatchlings for the entire season.

“This is of great concern to Traditional Owners, who want to protect the turtles,” Dr Perry said.

“The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub supported this partnership so that scientists and Indigenous people could come up with new and innovative ways to manage these predators together.”

The new technology gives the rangers immediate access to data to give them the best chance of protecting nests, controlling predators and helping species such as the Hawksbill, Flatback and Olive Ridley turtles make it from the nest to the ocean.

This project is just one of many examples of how the Australian Government’s $294 million NESP continues to support science-based solutions to environmental issues.

To find out more about the NESP Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub’s collaboration with the CSIRO, Microsoft and Cape York Indigenous rangers visit www.nespnorthern.edu.au/teaming-up-for-turtles