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Tracking turtle hatchlings – where do they go and does light matter?

Supervised by Dr Kellie Pendoley, PhD candidate Philippa Wilson from the University of Western Australia (UWA) is using the latest advances in acoustic tracking technology to investigate the impacts of artificial light on flatback turtle hatchlings at Thevenard Island, located in the north-west of Western Australia.

In collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW), Philippa Wilson and Pendoley Environmental are tracking flatback turtle hatchings on Thevenard Island as they depart the natal beach and begin the migration offshore. Read more about this project.

The flatback turtle is endemic to Australia and is considered data deficient by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The impacts of artificial light on hatchling migration offshore are not well understood.

As co-supervisor of Ms Wilsons PhD, Regional co-chair of the IUCNs Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG), and elected member of the Board of Directors of the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), Dr Pendoley’s role in the collection and dissemination of this information to the global marine turtle community is key.

Pendoley Environmental are considered leaders in fields of marine turtle research and artificial lighting and have been studying the effects of artificial light on marine turtle hatchlings, both on and offshore, for several decades.

Dr Pendoley collaborated with researchers from UWA in the pilot study for the current project. Another study, executed on behalf of Chevron Australia, has been investigating impacts of artificial light on hatchling travel speed, direction, and survivorship in the first 6 hours at sea since 2009; findings were presented at the 34th International Sea Turtle Symposium in New Orleans in 2014.

Using their patented Sky42™ technology, Pendoley Environmental’s Digital Horizon Imaging (DHI) division has recently published new research on the impacts of light on hatchlings immediately after they emerge from the nest. DHI have used this information to determine how industrial developments can better manage lighting to minimise impacts, ensuring hatchlings find their way into the ocean and offshore.

If you would like to know more about DHI or are interested in measuring light and impacts to wildlife and ecosystems, contact Dr Kellie Pendoley on (08) 9330 6200 or at

Some recent research includes:

Pendoley, K., & Kamrowski, R. L. (2016). Sea-finding in marine turtle hatchlings: What is an appropriate exclusion zone to limit disruptive impacts of industrial light at night?. Journal for Nature Conservation, 30, 1-11.

Kamrowski, R. L., Limpus, C., Pendoley, K., & Hamann, M. (2015). Influence of industrial light pollution on the sea-finding behaviour of flatback turtle hatchlings. Wildlife Research, 41(5), 421-434.

Pendoley, K., & Kamrowski, R. L. (2015). Influence of horizon elevation on the sea-finding behaviour of hatchling flatback turtles exposed to artificial light glow. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 529, 279-288.

Thums, M., Whiting, S. D., Reisser, J. W., Pendoley, K. L., Pattiaratchi, C. B., Harcourt, R. G., ... & Meekan, M. G. (2013). Tracking sea turtle hatchlings—a pilot study using acoustic telemetry. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 440, 156-163.