Raine Island Recovery Project

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The Raine Island Recovery Project is a five year, $7.95 million collaboration between BHP, the Queensland Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Wuthathi and Kemer Kemer Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) Traditional Owners and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

We would like to acknowledge the Wuthathi nation from Cape York and the Kemer Kemer Meriam nation (Ugar, Mer and Erub) from the eastern Torres Strait, as the Traditional Owners for Raine Island.

As a sign of respect, Traditional Owner’s language for certain places and animals has been incorporated throughout the image captions on this website.

Raine Island National Park (Scientific)

Image by Biopixel

Raine Island is located on the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, approximately 620 kilometres north-west of Cairns. The vegetated coral cay is just 21 hectares in size, but holds significant environmental and cultural values. The entire island is a protected national park (for scientific purposes) and is not accessible to the public.

Map by Google Earth

Map by Google Earth

Raine Island is:

  • supporting the world’s largest remaining green turtle nesting population
  • the most important seabird rookery in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
  • a significant cultural and story place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • home to a stone beacon, constructed in 1844, which is a landmark of national cultural significance listed on the Queensland Heritage Register
  • located in a remote area of the Great Barrier Reef that was the site of numerous shipwrecks, particularly during the 1800s, and even today remains poorly charted.

“A marine paradise that plays host to one of the most spectacular ocean migrations on the planet. This is Raine Island…”

Sir David Attenborough

Raine Island with Sir David Attenborough

The project

Ecosystem under threat

Changes in the island’s landscape have caused tidal inundation—killing newly laid eggs which cannot survive underwater—and causing as many as 2,000 adult turtles in a season to die from overturning and entrapment in rocky cliffs and from heat exhaustion on the nesting beach.

Green turtle laying eggs

Green turtle laying eggs

This, combined with general habitat loss, boat strikes, over harvesting and pollution, has placed the green turtle in serious danger.

Turtle (Nam) trapped in rocky ledge

Turtle (Nam) trapped in rocky ledge

Rescue of overturned turtle.

Rescue of overturned turtle.

Turtle (Nam) nesting observation

Turtle (Nam) nesting observation

Restoring Raine Island
The Raine Island Recovery Project aims to protect and restore the island’s critical habitat to ensure the future of key marine species, including green turtles and seabirds.

Turtle research

Turtle research

The Raine Island Recovery Project is:

  • restoring the island turtle nesting habitat through beach re-profiling
  • installing cliff-top fencing to reduce mortality of nesting female turtles
  • rescuing stranded and overturned nesting female turtles
  • monitoring key island species—including turtles, seabirds and apex predators
  • undertaking research that is focused on increasing the resilience and viability of key species such as turtles and seabirds
  • building Indigenous ranger capacity.
Turtle (Nam) marked after laying successfully

Turtle (Nam) marked after laying successfully

Marking turtles to look at nesting rates

Marking turtles to look at nesting rates

The Raine Island Recovery Project is the first project to assist in the recovery of green turtle populations on Raine Island by addressing the issues of low nesting and hatching success and high adult turtle mortality.

Research surveys

Research surveys

Drones are flown over the the island for aerial research.

Drones are flown over the the island for aerial research.

Video of the Raine Island Recovery Project

“Only one in a thousand hatchlings will reach maturity…”

Success stories

Ground-breaking intervention works and new research methods are achieving encouraging results.

In September 2014, a 100m x 150m section of the nesting beach was re-profiled by machinery using sand from the island to raise the nesting beach above tidal inundation level.

The first re-profiled area on Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur)

The first re-profiled area on Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur)

Video of major works to raise beach sand levels

As a result:

  • turtles are spreading out when nesting on the re-profiled section of beach, minimising the chance of them digging up already laid clutches of eggs
  • there is reduced disturbance from other turtles while laying eggs
  • nests are being laid above inundation level at all times
  • fewer eggs are dying in the early stages of development.

Another key part of the Project is to reduce the number of turtles that die each nesting season from cliff falls, getting trapped in beach rock or exhaustion. The installation of ‘cliff top’ fencing has prevented hundreds of turtles from falling down cliffs on to their backs, and becoming trapped.

Fencing installation to divert turtles (Nam) away from ledges

Fencing installation to divert turtles (Nam) away from ledges

Trapped turtles (Nam) die at rocky ledges

Trapped turtles (Nam) die at rocky ledges

During every trip to the island, the research crew take a ‘rescue walk’ every morning to flip over any turtles trapped on their backs, remove any that are stuck in beach rocks and carry any exhausted or disorientated turtles back to the water’s edge on the turtle sled or in the power carrier. If these turtles are not rescued, they would overheat and die on the beach.

Power carrier used to transport stranded turtles (Nam) back to water

Power carrier used to transport stranded turtles (Nam) back to water

Sled used for transporting turtles (Nam) back to water

Sled used for transporting turtles (Nam) back to water

Turtle (Nam) released from sled

Turtle (Nam) released from sled

1,100m of fencing installed estimated to have prevented 400 turtle (Nam) deaths


1,100m of fencing installed estimated to have prevented 400 turtle (Nam) deaths

Approximately 2,000 turtles (Nam) are tagged each nesting season at Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur)


Approximately 2,000 turtles (Nam) are tagged each nesting season at Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur)

Five turtles (Nam) have been satellite tagged at Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur) since 2015


Five turtles (Nam) have been satellite tagged at Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur) since 2015

Green turtles

There are two distinct populations of green turtles within the Great Barrier Reef—the northern and the southern—with 90% of the northern population coming from Raine Island.

Turtle (Nam) digging a body pit

Turtle (Nam) digging a body pit

Green turtles at Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur)

Green turtles at Raine Island (Bub warwar kaur)

The green turtle starts its life cycle as an egg on a beach, then as a hatchling moves to the open ocean for 8 years or more, before settling in shallow coastal waters associated with sea grass pastures. It will invariably return to the beach of its birth to nest and continue the cycle.

Green turtle hatchling

Green turtle hatchling

Once mature, a female will breed every three to seven years, laying up to six clutches of around 100 eggs per nesting season. Only one in 1,000 hatchlings will reach maturity, with predation by birds and other marine creatures in the first weeks of life taking the largest toll.

Video of turtle hatchlings (Kebi nam)

Raine Island has been a nesting place for green turtles for over a 1,000 years, making it the longest known marine turtle rookery anywhere in the world.
In a peak nesting season, up to 60,000 adult females can migrate to the island and the surrounding reef.

Turtles (Nam) leaving the island after nesting

Turtles (Nam) leaving the island after nesting

Timelapse video of turtles (Nam) arriving, video by Biopixel

Breeding females congregate at Raine Island each year from November to March. Over the season, one female may lay six times, once every 12 nights with around 100 eggs per clutch. However, due to nesting failure at Raine Island the number of clutches laid may be lower.

Turtle tracking
Three green turtles are being satellite tracked as they nest on the island during the 2016–17 nesting season. This provides scientists with important information to help protect the species.

School children from the Lockhart River and the Torres Strait island of Mer, named two of the three turtles, Tokolou and Mertle respectively. Project partner BHP named the third turtle Turturi.

All three tags are transmitting well and all three turtles have returned to their feedinggrounds after spending around three months at Raine Island, laying severalclutches.

Satellite map showing movements of Tokolou, a female green turtle fitted with a satellite tracker on 3 November 2016

Satellite map showing movements of Tokolou, a female green turtle fitted with a satellite tracker on 3 November 2016

Satellite map showing movements of Mertle, a female green turtle fitted with a satellite tracker on 2 November 2016

Satellite map showing movements of Mertle, a female green turtle fitted with a satellite tracker on 2 November 2016

Satellite map showing movements of Turturi, a female green turtle fitted with a satellite tracker on 3 November 2016

Satellite map showing movements of Turturi, a female green turtle fitted with a satellite tracker on 3 November 2016

Seabirds

Frigatebird

Rare seabirds
Eighty-four bird species have been recorded at Raine Island and 16 species are known to breed on the island. Five of these, including the Herald petrel, red-tailed tropicbird, red-footed booby, and the great and lesser frigatebirds, are considered uncommon or rare in Queensland.

Red-tailed tropicbird (Cilacus to)

Red-tailed tropicbird (Cilacus to)

Seabird surveys are undertaken at Raine Island at least three times a year to monitor breeding numbers.

Brown booby

Brown booby

The most significant breeding species on Raine Island is the Herald petrel, listed as critically endangered in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, with the red-tailed tropic bird listed as vulnerable in Queensland under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

The Herald petrel is critically endangered

The Herald petrel is critically endangered

Bird research using drones

Tiger sharks

Image by Biopixel

Tiger sharks can be found close to the coast, mainly in tropical and subtropical waters, and are known to migrate great distances to Raine Island to feed on green turtles.

Sharks cruise the shallow waters

Sharks cruise the shallow waters

Recent studies show that tiger sharks are going out of their way to avoid live, healthy turtles, and instead prefer to feed on dead or weakened ones floating in the water around the island.

A tiger shark surfaces

A tiger shark surfaces

The partners

The partners observe a nesting turtle.

BHP logo

BHP
As a leading global resources company, sustainability is at the heart of BHP’s strategy and is embedded throughout the organisation.

BHP is committed to helping build climate change resilience for the long term to ensure the future of the biodiversity and ecosystems on which our world depends. The company is constantly challenging itself, and its people, to do more to support the environments in which they operate.

Since 2007, BHP and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation have been working together to fund research to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef—a global company supporting a global treasure.

Queensland Government logo

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is a part of the Department of Environment and Science that is committed to managing Queensland’s parks and forests in a way that sustains natural and cultural values, builds environmental resilience to ensure healthy species and ecosystems and facilitates ecotourism, recreation and heritage experiences.

Australian Government - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority logo

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
For 40 years, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has managed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to ensure it is protected for the future. The Authority achieves this by using the best available scientific information and engaging with experts and the community. This includes four Reef Advisory Committees and 12 Local Marine Advisory Committees.

Traditional owners - Wuthathi Nation and Kemer Kemer Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) Traditional Owners logo

The Traditional Owners
Raine Island is of significance to the Erubam Le, Meriam Le and the Ugaram Le and the Wuthathi People, who are the Traditional Owners of Raine Island. See a map of the Wuthathi Traditional Use Marine Resource Agreement (TUMRA) region (PDF, 9.85MB). Turtles are an important part of Indigenous culture and lifestyle. Traditional Owners want to see Raine Island and turtles that nest there preserved for future generations.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation logo

Great Barrier Reef Foundation
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation exists to ensure a Great Barrier Reef for future generations. The Foundation is the Australian charity dedicated exclusively to protecting the Great Barrier Reef through raising funds for solution-driven science. Leading the collaboration of business, science, government and philanthropy, the Foundation funds vital research that goes to the heart of protecting the Reef and building its resilience in the face of major threats.

The Raine Island Recovery Project is also supported by James Cook University, Auckland University, the University of Queensland, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Department of the Environment and Energy, the Department of Environment and Science, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Biopixel and We do IT.

The Raine Island Recovery Project will continue to build the resilience
of this iconic species and the Raine Island ecosystem.