toggle menu
A hawksbill turtle fitted with a satelite tracker © WWF-Aus / Christine Hof

A hawksbill turtle fitted with a satelite tracker © WWF-Aus / Christine Hof

Update from the field: How to track a Hawksbill

14 Feb 2017

  • marine species
  • marine turtles

I'm in the field right now working to protect hawksbill turtles and ensure a future for this beautiful, yet critically endangered marine turtle.


These turtles are quite mysterious, as although we have some data that shows they can migrate to Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, the problem is, we really don’t know where hawksbill turtles are feeding, which rocky and coral reefs they prefer, what path they take to get there, what threats they’re facing along the way and where they call home.


So that's why I'm here helping out the Apudthama Indigenous Rangers and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to attach satellite transmitters to ten hawksbill turtles originating from Milman Island. 

Hawksbill turtle selfie on Milman Island 2017 © Christine Hof / WWF-Aus


Last night here on Milman Island – an amazingly beautiful sand cay on the far northern Great Barrier Reef, 20 km east of the tip of Cape York - I came across a hawksbill. She had a spectacularly mottled-coloured shell and was wedged under the branches of the moon flower tree. She layed her eggs and I recorded her tag number – K58735, she was another ‘recaptured’ turtle, meaning a turtle that has been recorded nesting on this beach before. That was my third recaptured turtle that night. It’s disheartening that so few new turtles are now coming here to nest.


Milman Island is an indicator beach that has been monitored over the past twenty-five years and represents how the entire north-east Australian hawksbill population is trending. Unfortunately, the scientists are telling us this population, like many others in the Coral Triangle region, are in a steep decline. It’s thought to be a mix of problems such as the continued legal and illegal hunting of hawksbills for their eggs, meat and shell to feed the tortoiseshell market, bycatch in fisheries and ghost nets, and loss of habitat.


After watching her lay her eggs I take all the measurements needed for K58735, and transport her back to camp to attach a tracking device. We’ll be using this temporary new bling to track them from space, using satellite transmitters.


Thanks to WWF and Wildlife Computers these devices will allow us to monitor their paths to what we hope is their safe haven rather than be a targeted source for food and fashion. We hope we’re not at the point of this being their last fighting chance.


Like many innovative projects, this is a collaboration between universities, government, Indigenous Rangers and other not-for-profit and community groups. Over time, the partners will analyse the turtles’ movements and we’ll be sure to keep you updated on the results!


Want to stay in the know? Sign up to our newsletter.

Or read more on our hawksbill work here.