ONCE IN A LIFETIME TRIP : Remote Turtle Research Camp

Research 1

There are limited spots available for families groups, researchers, keen photographers and doco makers and anyone after the trip of a lifetime! JOIN US….

BushTV is attending the annual West Island Turtle Camp near Borroloola in the NT.  The camp has been running for 12 years now and over this time the Rangers  have collected and collated some invaluable data on Wundanyuka (sea turtles); primarily Wirndiwirndi (flatbacks – Natator depressus) and sometimes Malurrba (green turtles – Chelonia mydas) with the occasional Liyarnbi (Olive Ridley – Lepidochelys olivacea) making an appearance. Come along and join in the research and help the Rangers and sit with family on country.


Narnu-Yuwa ki-Wundanyukawu turtle camp is held at Maabayj beach on West Island [15°34’32”S 136°31’55”E]. West is one of the larger islands forming the Sir Edward Pellew group in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria, while Maabayj beach itself is located on the northernmost part of the island and is only accessible by boat – see maps below.

Backing onto an extensive dune system, the camp site looks out to sea and is nestled amongst scattered Casuarinas and other native trees. The research area covers approximately 2 kilometres of beachfront and it is to here – the place where they hatched 18 or more years ago – that Wundanyuka return to lay their eggs. It must be said, however, that Wundanyuka make up their own minds about where they lay and they have been known to dig their nests in close proximity to where we camp.


West Island is located approximately 1000 km from Darwin, via Borroloola. You can travel to Borroloola by all-weather sealed road or fly into McArthur River with Airnorth – www.airnorth.com.au – and arrange to be picked up there. Charter flights direct to Borroloola are also available but are very expensive.

Your tour to West Island will commence in Borroloola township, where li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers will pick you up and transport you 70 km to Mule Creek Boat Ramp (near Bing Bong Port) before ferrying you to Maabayj a 30 to 40 minute boat trip (depending on weather and tidal conditions) in relatively sheltered waters. We will meet with all guests prior to discuss the details of your trip – see Events Schedule below.


Like most of the islands in the Sir Edward Pellew group, West is dominated by rugged sandstone plateaus, sparse vegetation and extensive coastal dune systems. Approximately 13,000 ha, the island is one of the largest in the group and constitutes part of several listed Northern Territory Sites of Conservation


Most of the turtles that nest at Maabayj (95–97 %) are Wirndiwirndi (flatbacks). Malurrba (green turtles) also nest here sometimes but only make up an overall average of 3% of nesting turtles. Occasionally, we see a Liyarnbi, an Olive Ridley

As we said before, Wundanyuka do not work to the same timetable as us and we have to fit in with their schedule. Normally though, they start to nest from about 8:00 pm to as early as 4:00 am the next morning. So nearly all of our research takes place in darkness from about 7:30 pm, depending on how cooperative Wundanyuka decide to be on any given night.

We divide the beach into sectors, and the families and Rangers then break up into teams. You will be assigned to a team and will accompany them along the beach to observe and even participate in some of the research, which includes:

All-night beach patrols to identify tracks and emerging Wundanyuka;

Monitoring/close observation of nesting Wundanyuka;

Carapace measurement and tag/microchip identification after laying;

Identification of egg clutches, weighing of eggs and monitoring of hatchling success; and

Monitoring of Vemco temperature data loggers.

We can’t guarantee what you will see, but over the years that we have been undertaking this research we have recorded a mean average of 10 turtles per night. We watch them quietly as they struggle up the beach and begin to lay. Once they have settled into their nests it is possible to approach them very carefully and watch them dig a chamber and lay their eggs. Shortly after they finish we measure the carapace and check tags or microchips to see which turtles have nested here before. At all times we do everything we can to avoid disturbing the turtles any more than is necessary and it should be noted that some Wundanyuka (especially Malurrba) are very fussy about where they nest, so we ask that you avoid disturbing them and listen attentively to directions from the Rangers and families.

You may also be privileged enough to see little hatchlings and maybe even handle them. At times, when we are monitoring success rates, you may have the opportunity to gently pick the hatchlings up and place them in your pocket (while the Rangers finish up their work) at which time they (the hatchlings not the Rangers) will instantly fall asleep.


This year, we have had a number of expressions of interest from a diverse range of family and other groups. In light of this diversity (which promises us important insights into our business modelling) and in order to make the event accessible to as many people as possible, we have decided to forego advertising to a wider national and international audience until 2015.   With these and other considerations in mind we have simplified our accommodation options, made them more flexible and reduced our advertised prices substantially to encourage a more local, “word of mouth” clientele. Our new pricing is as follows:

  1. Eco tent (Adult Couples)               2                              $1,250 per person                  $2,500
  2. Eco tent (Group Bookings)           4                              $   850  per person                $3,400
  3. Eco tent (Family Bookings)           5 (neg.)                $   750 (2) 500 (3)                $3,000
  4. Eco tent (Individual Shared)        4                              $   750                                      $3,000

Given the diversity of interested groups, these prices may also be negotiated on a case by case basis in accordance with individual requirements, whether they be in respect to family makeup or budgetary concerns.

Please contact us as soon as you can if you  are still interested, have any specific needs, or require any further information. Also find attached the promised Information Sheet and rest assured the entire event programme remains unchanged and as exciting as ever, just at a reduced price.


Sea Ranger Office Borroloola

(08) 8975 8777 OR 0400 419 238


Info Sheet 2014_Final

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