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Tracking gentle giants of the Northern Territory

Leatherback turtles are the largest of the world’s turtle species and are Australia’s rarest sea turtle with nesting now only observed in remote areas of the Northern Territory. They are a listed as Endangered which means without conservation action this turtle is at risk of greater decline. We need your help to unravel the mysterious life of this fascinating and rare animal before they disappear forever.

There are now only anecdotal reports of leatherback turtles nesting on our shores with one report last year and no others since 2011. Leatherback turtle sightings off the NT coast were reported in 2015 as part of a dugong survey but recent research is otherwise limited. Leatherback turtles used to nest along the Queensland and northern NSW coast but have not been observed since 1996. The trend of leatherback turtle nesting in Australia suggests we may see the last leatherback turtle nest on our shores in the next 10 years.

We don’t currently understand where the nesting NT leatherback turtles come from, go to, or how many there are. They may belong to a western Pacific population or to another in the Western Indian Ocean. Our efforts to save the remaining leatherback turtles requires an understanding of important feeding areas and migration pathways and the threats they encounter between these areas. 

There is hope to save these amazing animals but we need help. Funds raised will be used to do weekly aerial surveys along the Cobourg Peninsula, the NT’s only Marine Park – also an area of the highest recorded leatherback nesting in Australia.

The project aims to first detect leatherback turtle nesting along the coast and when found, attach satellite tags to two individuals. If we are able to do this, they would be the first leatherbacks ever tracked with satellite tracking technology in Australia.

Once satellite tags are fitted, the public will be able to track the leatherback turtles online as they migrate away from the Territory coast and return to their feeding areas. The encounter will also allow an opportunity for genetic data to be collected to help in identify which population they belong to.

Sea Turtle Foundation will work in collaboration with researchers from the Northern Territory government to provide another piece in the complex jigsaw of our understanding of leatherback turtles in northern Australia. 

We need your help to make this happen! 

Head over to our donation page if you would like to contribute to our efforts to better understand and conserve these beautiful creatures. And remember, all donations over $2 are fully tax deductible!