AI used to protect Qld turtle habitats

·2-min read

A world-first artificial intelligence system has been developed to analyse thousands of photographs of remote beaches to identify evidence of turtle nests and their predators.

A collaboration by the CSIRO, Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) of the Cape York Indigenous rangers and Microsoft, the cloud-based system is trying to boost the survival rates of turtle hatchlings in Australia's remote far north.

As part of a National Environmental Science Program, real-time information will be used to protect endangered turtle nests from feral predators.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley says the AI-infused technology will make a huge difference to the conservation efforts for local rangers and the survival rates of sea turtles.

"As few as one-in-1000 sea turtle hatchlings survive the perilous journey from nest to ocean and adulthood because of feral pigs and other predators," she 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."

The CSRIO's Dr Justin Perry, who leads the project, says they can have zero hatchlings for the entire season as a result of feral pigs digging and eating turtle nest eggs.

"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 and the best chance of protecting nests.

Through automation and acceleration of turtle nest monitoring, Indigenous rangers have the best chance of protecting nests, controlling predators and helping increase the chance of hawksbill, flatback and olive ridley turtle hatchling survival.