Home / Blog / Need to track turtles? Use a drone!

Need to track turtles? Use a drone!

Green turtles coming ashore at dusk for nesting at Raine Island. Photograph by Duncan Limpus

Researchers have been making use of technology to track moose and shark, migratory birds and Alaskan bears and whatever you can imagine in between. Most of the time they use some kind of beacons generating radio signals that can be tracked from afar. This is a significant step forward from the low key technology used in the past when they had to capture an animal and put some paint on its skin/fur and after a when a specimen was captured find out if it was one of those “marked”.

This was the approach used for turtles, paint their shells with some identification sign and look for it when the turtles came back to lay eggs (they migrate long distances but go back to the beach they were born to lay eggs).

Managing thousands of turtles is a big endeavour and basically researchers ended up with some sort of statistical approximation. Now they shifted gear and are using drones plus plenty of image recognition software to count the turtles coming ashore to lay eggs on Raine island in Australia and then counting the ones hatching and going to sea.

Interestingly, they discovered they had underestimated their number by over 50% (looks like statistics does not work in the turtle business…). They have now counted over 60,000 green turtles that are using Raina as their home base for laying eggs (watch the clip).

I am not intrigued by turtles as such but I am in seeing the expanding capability to harvest data and analyse them through a multiplicity of sensors and channels. Counting turtles from above, those on the beach and those swimming in shallow waters with their number in the thousands, seems an incredible achievement to me.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.