By Sea Country Facilitator Vanessa Drysdale
During the very early stages of the dry season, the trade winds swing from a predominantly north westerly direction to a south easterly.
These first few weeks of the easterly winds, or Dhimurru winds as they're known in yolngu way, are when the Rangers find the highest number of turtles washed ashore, entangled in nets.
This phenomenon only lasts for around six to eight weeks and also results in a huge amount of rubbish being dumped on the shoreline.
Ghostnets are a particularly destructive form of marine debris and are defined as derelict or abandoned commercial fishing nets, which are drifting unattended at sea.
Marine sea turtles are particularly affected by ghostnets and are observed entangled more often than any other marine creature. In 2014 Dhimurru recovered 26 turtles in nets.
Where the nets are coming from, how long they spend in the ocean and how many animals they entangle on their journey are unknown. What is known is that the approximately 300km of coastline the Dhimurru Rangers manage is a ‘hotspot’ for marine debris.
Each year the Rangers collect many tonnes of rubbish from the beaches in an attempt to remove the toxic waste from the environment and ensure the ghostnets do not return to the sea to continue on their deadly journey.
The coastline around Gove is very beautiful, but also very rugged and remote. The best way for Rangers to access and check the entire length of the beach for turtles is to fly in a Jetranger Helicopter.
Along with releasing turtles, on these flights Rangers help collect vital data, including species, curved carapace length, skin sample to determine DNA, and a GPS position of where the animal was found.
Dhimurru is working closely with scientists at Charles Darwin University to better understand the ghostnet phenomenon, where the nets are coming from, where the turtles are getting entangled and how we can stop the nets from becoming lost at sea. We are also planning on putting a satellite tracker on a couple of turtles shortly to see what becomes of them once they are released.
If you do ever come across a turtle in a net on one of the beaches, please carefully cut it free, take lots of pictures and report its location to Dhimurru. We collect all of this information and it helps us better understand what is happening to our precious marine life.