Revolutionizing Turtle Health on the Reef

Ocean Health

Revolutionizing Turtle Health on the Reef

Are the turtles off the Great Barrier Reef healthy? Join us to test a novel method to assess the body composition of sea turtles in the wild.

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

This research will determine how humans are affecting the health of green sea turtle populations along the Great Barrier Reef.

Help scientists monitor the health of green sea turtle populations in areas heavily impacted by human activities.

While the Great Barrier Reef is protected as a World Heritage Site, it still faces many threats from natural disasters and human activity. In January 2019, freshwater overflowed from Queensland’s rivers, spilling out over the Great Barrier Reef. These waters damaged inshore corals that had been damaged previously by mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. The sediments carried in this floodwater added further stress to the seagrass meadows that sea turtles graze on. Additionally, close to Bowen (one of the two study sites), the Burdekin River drains the largest agriculture catchment in Queensland, with many harmful chemicals running off directly into the ocean. On top of that, an enormous coalmine is being built along the coast in this region.

Emaciated Turtle

Emaciated Turtle

This project aims to examine is how well green sea turtle populations living in heavily human-impacted areas along the Great Barrier Reef are doing compared to turtles living in pristine areas where human impacts are not a major issue (yet).

Information about how much fat animals are able to store gives researchers insights into how resilient the population is to harsh conditions and how likely they are to be able to reproduce successfully. However, assessing the health of marine animal populations has proven difficult. Researchers on this project are testing a novel way to determine the health of green sea turtles by measuring their body index— the proportion of muscle, fat, and water— using a portable bioelectrical impedance analyser (BIA), commonly used to measure human body composition. Additionally, this project will examine contaminants in the blood and diet of sea turtles by analyzing blood and seagrass samples.

By defining “areas of risk” for sea turtles, we aim to influence conservation management decisions and actions to better protect this endangered species.

About the research area

Magnetic Island, North Queensland, and Bowen, North Queensland, Australia, Australia, Australia & South Pacific

Daily life in the field


This is a summary:

The Scientists



ABOUT Sara Kophamel

Sara Kophamel is a Spanish veterinarian currently doing her PhD in sea turtle health at James Cook University, Townsville. Sara received her Degree of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, and worked for two years with wildlife and exotic pets at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany. Driven by the desire to focus more on wildlife health and conservation, she decided to join the Turtle Health Research team at James Cook University to start her PhD. Townsville is next door to the Great Barrier Reef and to important green sea turtle foraging grounds, as well as home to amazing nature and wildlife. Sara is especially interested in developing new diagnostic tools for assessing wildlife in their natural environment and is currently adapting a tool for examining green sea turtles in the field.



Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


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