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Amazing Drone Footage Captures Thousands of Turtles Migrating Near Great Barrier Reef

Animals

Australian researchers captured a stunning scene that looks like something out of Finding Nemo. The drone the scientists used recorded approximately 64,000 green turtles migrating near Australia's Great Barrier Reef for nesting season, as CNN reported.


The footage from the Queensland Government's Department of Environment and Science (DES) spotted the turtles congregating at the world's largest green turtle rookery at Raine Island, a vegetated coral cay approximately 385 miles northwest of Cairns in Queensland, according to CNN.

The sheer number of turtles surprised the scientists who realized they had underestimated the number of green turtles in the area by 50 percent, according to Voice of America's YouTube post showing the footage.

"We were underestimating that a lot. We're finding 1.73 times as many turtles with the drone ... when we directly compare with the observer counts," Dr. Andrew Dunstan, from the DES, told CNN Tuesday, adding that the team can now go back and adjust historic population estimates.

Prior to using drones, researchers would count turtles as they landed on the beach to lay eggs. They would then mark the turtles with a non-toxic paint to track them in the ocean. However, accurately counting thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a boat in the water proved difficult and unreliable, according to the Voice of America post.

Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored," Dunstan, senior research scientist and lead author of a paper about the turtles published in PLOS ONE on Thursday, said in a statement, as CNN reported.

"What previously took a number of researchers a long time can now be by one drone operator in under an hour," said researcher Richard Fitzpatrick from the Biopixel Oceans Foundation, as Prevention reported.

Green sea turtles are a vulnerable species in Queensland since they are hunted for their flesh and eggs, are often trapped in trawler fishing nets, and choke on discarded plastic bags, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Eleven species of green turtles are listed as either endangered or threatened in the Endangered Species Act in the U.S.

"We sort of became aware that although there's these massive aggregations, the actual reproduction isn't working so well," said Dunstan to CNN, explaining that his team noticed turtles were falling off cliffs, becoming trapped in the heat and suffering flooding in their nests.

In their statement, as Prevention noted, the DES said they're "taking action to improve and rebuild the island's nesting beaches and building fences to prevent turtle deaths, all working to strengthen the island's resilience and ensure the survival of our northern green turtles and many other species."

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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

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Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

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The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

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"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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