Use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for mark-resight nesting population estimation of adult female green sea turtles at Raine Island

Dunstan, Andrew, Robertson, Katharine, Fitzpatrick, Richard, Pickford, Jeffrey, and Meager, Justin (2020) Use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for mark-resight nesting population estimation of adult female green sea turtles at Raine Island. PLoS ONE, 15 (6). e0228524.

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Nester abundance is a key measure of the performance of the world's largest green turtle rookery at Raine Island, Australia, and has been estimated by mark-resight counts since 1984. Nesters are first marked by painting their carapace with a longitudinal white stripe. Painted and unpainted turtles are then counted by a surface observer on a small boat in waters adjacent to the reef. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and underwater video may provide more cost-effective and less biased alternatives to this approach, but estimates must be comparable with historical estimates. Here we compare and evaluate the three methods. We found comparatively little variation in resighting probabilities between consecutive days of sampling or time of day, which supports an underlying assumption of the method (i.e. demographic closure during sampling). This lack of bias in the location availability for detection of painted versus unpainted turtles and further supported by a parallel satellite tracking study of 40 turtles at Raine Island. Our results demonstrated that surface observers consistently reported higher proportions of marked turtles than either the UAV or underwater video method. This in turn yielded higher population estimates with UAV or underwater video compared to the historical surface observer method, which suggested correction factors of 1.53 and 1.73 respectively. We attributed this to observer search error because a white marked turtle is easier to spot than the non-marked turtle. In contrast, the UAV and underwater video methods allowed subsequent frame-by-frame review, thus reducing observer search error. UAVs were the most efficient in terms of survey time, personnel commitment and weather tolerance compared to the other methods. However, underwater video may also be a useful alternative for in-water mark-resight surveys of turtles.

Item ID: 67163
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
Copyright Information: © 2020 Dunstan et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2021 01:54
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
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