The turtles of Ningaloo

Ningaloo provides important feeding grounds and nesting beaches for a number of marine turtle species, especially green Chelonia mydas and loggerhead Caretta caretta turtles. Green turtles are abundant in the shallow lagoons, where they arrive as juveniles after spending perhaps a decade in the open ocean.

Dr Mat Vanderklift and Dr Rich Pillans at Ningaloo Reef tagging turtles (Copyright Blue Media).

Research conducted during Ningaloo Outlook since 2015 has shown that they remain in these lagoons through adulthood, and individual adults return to small home ranges after mating and nesting migrations. Green turtles that nest on the beaches of Ningaloo arrive from places as far as Shark Bay and the Kimberley.

The tracks of all the turtles tagged during Ningaloo Outlook can be found on our turtle tracking website. Our research on turtles aims to provide fundamental science to improve our knowledge about migrations, feeding, abundance and age, and to involve the local community in ways that increase their understanding and ability to participate in research.

New research in Ningaloo Outlook, led by Dr. Mat Vanderklift, will focus on getting better estimates of abundance (that is, how many turtles there are) through incorporation of technology like drones with new types of tags. We will also try to get better estimates of age and population structure (that is, how many animals of each size or age there are) by combining estimates of growth from recaptured animals with cutting-edge DNA-based methods. We will continue with our successful satellite tagging program, but will focus on unresolved questions, like understanding the mating and nesting migrations of turtles that have their home ranges within the lagoons of Ningaloo.

We will also continue our engagement with the local community of Exmouth, through partnerships with the Exmouth District High School and local community volunteers.

To read more about what the team achieved between 2015-2020, click here or read our Ningaloo Outlook Highlight Report. You can also see a full list of our research here.

Future Scientists

A key part of the Ningaloo Outlook Partnership is to create opportunities to train the next generation of scientists. Daniel Axford joined the turtles team in October 2021 and will undertake work towards a PhD degree at Murdoch University. Daniel plans to produce the first estimates of sea turtle abundance at Ningaloo using drone aerial surveys whilst exploring the use of deep learning for automated image classification of drone images.