Saving Endangered Sea Turtles With the Anindilyakwa Rangers
It has always been a dream of mine to see turtles in action in real life not just on the television. So when I was invited to volunteer on a turtle research project by a Marine Biologist I jumped at the opportunity. It was a particular privilege because there is no tourism on this island and unless you are working for the Anindilyakwa Rangers or descend from Groote Eylandt you will never get to encounter what I saw.
The experience of driving through the islands dense forest was pretty terrifying for a city girl like me. Branches and stones were scraping against the truck as we sped through the bush at high-speed driving over mountainous sand dunes having to keep pace to avoid sinking in the sand. There are no official maps to find locations on the island. There are just random dirt tracks where others had ventured before and had chopped down trees to make a path.
Whilst looking for turtle spots we came across a forest fire. It was a controlled forest fire and the land owners do this regularly to cultivate the land and promote regrowth. I was a bit worried about leaving the car to take a photo because of the fumes. But I was assured If I was quick I would come to no harm.
The aboriginals are exceptional at reading the land. They were able to spot turtle tracks a mile away and could locate a turtles nest literally by looking at the sand.
It is traditional and legal for aboriginals to eat turtles and turtle eggs its part of their diet. If the aboriginal people born on Groote Eylandt had to survive solely off the land they could do so very easily. Whereas someone like me would die in the heat within a matter of hours because of my lack of knowledge.
It is very unusual to see a turtle in the blazing heat of the day, especially one that is nestling but that is exactly what we saw.
The Olive Ridley are generally found in the tropics but are massively in decline because of a number of environmental factors. One of the biggest risks to turtles are fisherman’s nets . We found turtles trapped in nets and believe that the nets are coming from Indonesia. The fisheries industry is extremely strict in Australia but the same rules and regulations don’t apply in Asia.
If you ever find a turtle that is struggling for life the first thing to do is hydrate it by dipping the turtle into the ocean gently. Whilst keeping hold of it. Once the turtle is hydrated it should be able to swim again. We did this with a Loggerhead that was found injured and within 10 minutes the turtle was swimming again.
I was invited on to holy sacred land and out of respect I will not upload the pictures. It is extremely rare for anyone who is not from the original blood line on the island to visit the sacred sites.
Upon entry I went through the ritual of announcing myself and informing the Gods that I meant no harm. I doubt my words will ever be descriptive enough to describe the beauty that I saw beyond this sign.
I was told when I entered that there is a headless lady dressed all in white who walks the area at night. I was told on two different occasions by different people who told me they had seen this headless ghost whilst camping on the land at night-time. I don’t know why this headless lady stalks the surrounding area. But that was enough to totally freak me out!
There is also this random island that you can paddle out to with a dingy that has donkeys on. There are no donkeys anywhere else on the island. But apparently a Dutch discoverer left a few donkeys there and hundreds of years later they have populated that random island. I was told that they survive happily off the land.
Another unique feature that lays behind this sign is the large red mountain of sand that crosses the beach for around 2km but the beach itself is normal brown sand with this random red sand dune. This is another reason as to why this land is sacred.
I had a fantastic time-saving endangered sea turtles on Groote Eylandt and visiting the sacred sites and can’t thank the Anindilyakwa people enough!
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