Hope Vale girls heading out to Linnet Reef 


Pictured Camelia, Shaunica and Mae Mae. The familiar shape of Cape Flattery receding behind us. The trip covers just over 10 nautical miles. We are heading out to meet the Turtle Tagging team led by Ian Bell from the Threatened Species unit at Queensland Parks and Wildlife. Ian is also the Director of the Sea Turtle Foundation- http://www.seaturtlefoundation.org/  He has taken part annually in the Hope Vale Pelican project since 2005. Pelican has her maximum load of 27 passengers and 6 crew.



Pelican arriving at Linnet Reef. You could not ask for a better day for the turtle tagging. The wind quietened down the day before and we had about 10 knots for most of the day. The clearer skies meant it was much easier to spot and chase down the turtles.



Pelican people arrived on the beach just after the Sea Turtle team had managed to catch six turtles including two Hawksbill. 
They had already caught and tagged 12 turtles the day before and with the help of the young people today they caught a total of 33 turtles. Three of the total were the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle. See ICUN listing -0 http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/8005/0
All the other turtles were Green Sea turtles( In Guugu Yimithirr they are called Nuuwiirr- pronounced knoweeahrr)



Ian Bell talked to everyone about what they were doing and why.



But also got into the action of catching the turtles themselves which is an exiting chase. The activity has been extremely popular with the Hope Vale young people and we could fill the boat many times over. We are already planning for our return next year with Ian Bell.



The water has to be just deep enough so that you do not bunny hop and also shallow enough to give the diver a chance to bring the turtle to surface easily. 



The turtle team brought two boats in with them to join the project. This is a feat in itself, as it involves an arduous, sometimes sand bogged drive to come in to Cape Flattery from Hope Vale. It can be difficult in a four wheel drive and harder when towing a boat!
They were driving out early the following morning  so I am hoping they have made it safely back. Two other Parks and Wildlife rangers from Cooktown, Peter and Keith, joined Ian to support the work and brought the second catch boat.



Boys coming to see how many turtles the boat had managed to catch. I was impressed that the young women were as eager to dive after the turtles as the boys. I did have a go in the boat and felt happiest trying to photograph the action.



I think this is a Hawkbill flipper. You can't see it in this photo but I was surprised to observe that turtles have remnant claws from land days. Though the men still have a function for a couple of theirs for when they grip onto the female.



A freshly caught green turtle. 



Hawkbill close up.



They really do look prehistoric.



Ian had another knowledge seeker with his team. Ellen from James Cook University. She is originally from Denmark, but did her PhD here where she first met Ian Bell. She is a virologist. Since deciding to return to Australia she has taken an interest in the turtles and diseases that are afflicting them. She is now working at JCU. I will research her second name ASAP and add here that she was a wonderful addition to the turtle team. She has observed red spots on both the outer and under shell of the turtles recently. Interestingly when we talked to Des Bowen from Hope Vale, he said he had observed them had not known of them till recently.
She was taking core samples from the shell of the turtles to determine if any turtles in the local population showed an unhealthy level of heavy metals.



The patience of a turtle! We did ask Ian if the turtles suffered a lot during this process where they are jumped on, hauled onto a boat then a beach, where they are turned over (with their heads facing away from the sun.) Ian had worked with a PhD student who was studying exactly that and they discovered that turtles show a spike when first caught and then it levels quickly. Just like the turtles turn off. Young ones showed more stress though. The mature ones seemed to understand if there is nothing they can do it is much better to shut down and conserve energy.



You can just see a red spot on the belly of this green sea turtle.



And here closer. Ellen is not sure what it is but thinks it is a type of bacteria. She has seen it on the carapace as well but we only saw it (on nearly all of them) on the belly.



This barnacle, with an exotic name I can't remember, lives only on Sea Turtles. And as the turtles are endangered, so is this beast!



Shaunica taking the measurement of the shell. Every turtle that is tagged is first measured, seen whether it is male or female. The turtle has to be fairly mature to be sure of the sex and many of the turtles were a ?. If they were female and 105 cm they were considered sexually mature. That measurement has decreased over time as it used to be that turtles were sexually mature at 107cm. 
Shaunica has bee out with us before on previous years. Her Aunty told us that after the day she said to her that she wants to be able to do what we are doing (Caring for sea country) when she leaves school. She is very interested in studying marine biology. 



Lyn was another indispensable member of the team who wrote down all the data and the tag names.



A fresh recruit.



Broyden with a very young Hawkbill.



Camelia doing the tagging of the turtle with an aluminium tag (which cannot rust).



Hand on shell.



The girls helping the turtle back into the water.



There was always huge excitement when every turtle was released. They did look amazing as they took flight and flew through the blue water as fast as they could from captivity!



Happy divers.



I had a few moments to snorkle the nearby coral reef and was immediately spellbound. This is the inside of a Giant Clam.



Beautiful coral formation- someone will tell me its proper name.



Small clams looking like crazy coloured lips.





The whole time we were working on the sand cay there were two herons fishing on the far end of the spit. Seemed a lovely metaphor for the project.



A digital story about the turtle tagging work was made at the Hope Vale camp in 2008 which can be seen at 

That evening we had arranged for Ian and Ellen to talk about the work they were doing today and a bit generally about what they are involved in. It was great to have an almost impromptu knowledge sharing with the whole camp. Des, the Elder we work with, said he heard one of the young men commenting about how it all made sense to hear these facts about the turtles and management while listening to the waves lap on the beach. Learning by doing is a creed held dearly by the Pelican mob and it certainly seems to touch many important shared values.


Des Bowen then responded to Ian and Ellen by thanking them and Ian in particular for coming every year. He talked deeply about sea country and land management issues as well as sharing ideas of the blend of culture and science that is needed to look after "what is in our own backyard".
AuthorMichelle Quach