Turtle being photographed by Beastcam

Three-dimensional images of flatback turtles taken on Thevenard Island last year are now being used to help researchers better understand the species.

In November 2017, staff from DBCA's North West Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program invited US Professor Duncan Irschick to come to Thevenard Island to photograph flatback turtles nesting on the island using BeastcamTM© technology he invented.

Thevenard Island is an important flatback nesting site off the coast of Onslow in the Pilbara.

Three adult female turtles were photographed from every angle using multi-camera technology. The photos were then pieced together to create 3D models, which can be used in augmented reality.

A 'photo studio' was set up on the beach to be able to take high quality photos of the animals. The turtles were brought to the studio after they had finished laying their eggs and were about to return at sea.

Staff say it was an interesting 'exercise' to get a flatback turtle to stay still in the middle of an array of expensive cameras for long enough to be able to take good photos while making sure she didn't throw sand everywhere, nor bite the equipment or the photographer. 

Thevenard Island has been monitored by the North West Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program since 2016. Twenty volunteers and staff spend five weeks every year on the island to count and tag female flatback turtles.

The BeastcamTM is made up of 30 cameras mounted on tripods that take simultaneous pictures of the animal. The photos are then stitched together using a technique called photogrammetry to create a high-resolution 3D model of the animal.

The model can also be used to create realistic 3D prints of flatbacks which is a great education tool. 

This is the first 3D model of a flatback turtle. There are 3D models available of other turtle species: the green turtle and the loggerhead turtle. These turtles however were captive turtles so it was easier to photograph them. It was the first time Prof Duncan used the Beastcam to photograph wild turtles on a nesting beach.