Shark Bay Women Help Gather Important Information on Endangered Loggerhead Turtles

Aboriginal women from Shark Bay have been involved in tagging endangered loggerhead turtles on Dirk Hartog Island, off WA’s Gascoyne coast, for the first time.

January is often a busy time for the turtles as they head to Turtle Bay to bury their eggs.

Each year volunteers assist the Department of Parks and Wildlife with the tagging and monitoring of the turtles.

But for the first time, Malgana people from Shark Bay are this year joining in and helping to gather important data on the turtles.

Bianca McNeair, who is one of the six women from Shark Bay, said it had been an amazing opportunity to be part of the turtle monitoring program.

She said she had seen Dirk Hartog Island many times over the years, viewing it from a distance from Denham, but this was the first time she had been to the island and observed the turtles.

“We get to learn the other half of the information that we didn’t get to learn that we would’ve learned traditionally,” Ms McNeair said.

“We also get to put together the information that our elders taught us when we were younger, and be able to say ah okay, so that’s why, you know, they told us to do things this way.”

The Department of Parks and Wildlife, which looks after the island, acknowledges the important partnership.

“We get to learn from them as much as they do from us,” Shark Bay district ranger Dale Fitzgerald said.

“[It is] really important to understand their desires and their values for these species and the land.”

The group monitored and tagged the turtles all through the night for four nights, often walking about 15 kilometres, but this did not seem to faze any of them.

“You don’t even get tired. It’s just that excitement that keeps pushing you on,” Nykita McNeair said.

“Seeing the bioluminescent turtles under the Milky Way and watching the turtles lay eggs is such a beautiful image I’ll never forget.”

Mary Barrett Gelu, a turtle tagger team leader, said when a turtle was first spotted, it was important to figure out what she was doi

“When she first comes up onto shore we want to leave her be so we can observe her from a distance,” she said.

“Then, when she’s laid her eggs, we are able to tag and measure her.”

The project’s main aim is to measure any turtles that have been tagged previously to see how much they have grown.

Ms Barret Gulu said it was vital to try and understand the turtles more.

“To learn a lot about them and figure out ways we can get them coming back again and again,” she said.

All the data collected will be analysed to see how the turtle numbers are tracking.

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