Turtle surveys, Field Island | Kakadu National Park

Gardangarl (Field Island) is a critical habitat for flatback turtles and a key monitoring site in the Australian National Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles. Every year teams of Kakadu park staff, traditional owners and conservation volunteers camp on Field Island over a four week period to study the turtles as they come ashore to nest. Surveying began in the 1980s and has continued annually since 1994.

Learn more about the turtle surveys


Narrator - Samantha Deegan, Indigenous ranger:
Five species of marine turtles occur in the waters around Kakadu National Park - the flatback, green, Olive Ridley, loggerhead and the hawksbill.

Known as Gardangal to its traditional owners, most flatback nesting takes place here on Field Island.

Jonathon Nadji, traditional owner:
We're on Field Island, which I'm a traditional owner of and we've more or less doing turtle surveying. And it's been great looking after the turtles and stuff like that and coming down and doing the tracking and stuff like that.

Kakadu ranger:
The flat back is the only species of marine turtle that is listed globally as data deficient. In other words that there is not enough information to tell us whether populations are declining, stable or increasing. In addition to that there are major gaps in what we understand about its biology. About where it goes, what sort of habitats it uses, how fast it grows and what age it reaches maturity, that sort of stuff.

The first surveys were done in the early 1980's and Parks Australia has been monitoring turtles on the island every year since 1994. Our work provides valuable information such as long term population trends. It's one of the longest data sets for this species. This is crucial to the recovery plan of this threatened species. The data will also form a solid baseline, and could act as an early warning signal for the effects of climate change.

While the turtles are laying you can measure and tag them. Also, we make a note of barnacles and other markings and count the number of eggs.

Sean Nadji, traditional owner:
Don't throw like plastic bags otherwise the turtles will think it's like jellyfish or something and go and eat it. Just like nets, they get caught up in the nets and they drown.

The work we do on Field Island is very important to us. It helps us understand how flatback turtles are going on a regional and national scale, so we can protect their long term future.