skip to main content

people and community barrow island operations hatches plan to protect turtles

2 min read | may 02, 2023

Julian Kalau (in yellow), a Chevron Australia environmental advisor, helps affix a satellite tracker on a flatback sea turtle.

On New Year’s Eve, while much of the world was celebrating, Julian Kalau sat alone on an Australian island with unusual company.

“I was sitting on the beach, waiting for a turtle to nest, when two little brushtail possums walked up to me,” said Julian, an environmental advisor for Chevron Australia. “One put its paws on my leg, looked at me, then wandered off.”

Just like the possums, Julian is one of the curious creatures combing the coastline of Barrow Island. Located approximately 60 kilometers off the northwest coast of Western Australia, the island is one of the most important wildlife refuges in the world.

As the primary operator on the island, Chevron is working to help protect the environment and preserve the area’s rich biodiversity. This includes the flatback sea turtle, the subject of Julian’s shoreline surveillance at the threshold of a new year.

nesting haven

Named for the shape of their shell, flatbacks are among the 44 reptile species you might find on Barrow Island, especially during nesting season from December through January.

It’s an incredible sight to watch the turtles congregate on the sandy shores to lay clutches of eggs, just as it’s rewarding to protect them through long-term planning, said Julian.

A flatback sea turtle retuns to the ocean after nesting on an Australian island.

A flatback sea turtle returns to the ocean after nesting on an Australian island.

As well as supporting flatback research and monitoring of regional populations onshore, we carefully avoid disturbing the species onshore by:

  • Using lower-intensity and orange-tinged outdoor lights on our natural gas facility. White lights can deter nesting and disorient hatchlings as they make their first journey to the ocean.
  • Limiting human activity on beaches.
An identification tag can be seen on the flipper of this flatback turtle.

An identification tag can be seen on the flipper of this flatback turtle.

turtle quest

Flatbacks are the only species of sea turtle listed as “data deficient” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning we don’t know much about them. Extensive research is needed to help protect the species from threats like fishing and pollution and establish an effective conservation plan.

With the support of a leading marine conservation consultancy, more than 7,500 adult female flatbacks have been tagged with either titanium flipper tags or electronic shoulder chips.

“When we started researching, we really didn’t know that much about flatbacks,” Julian said. “We now know more about their activities, where they travel and how nesting females behave.”

rare and remarkable creatures

Barrow Island hosts many mammal species that are now absent or rarely seen across other parts of Australia. This includes a small marsupial called the Barrow Island boodie and the black-flanked rock-wallaby.

It’s home to a range of marsupials, including wallabies, bandicoots and possums, and native rats, mice and microbats. The marine environment features a rich community of coral, seagrass, macroalgae and other organisms that live on the sea floor.

To Julian, getting up close and personal with the island’s many residents is part of his job as well as a perk. For instance, there was the time a female hawksbill sea turtle shambled over the sands to nest next to his foot.

“I couldn’t move because if I did, I would disturb her,” he said. “So, I just waited there patiently for 40 minutes until she left. It was really quite amazing.”

topics covered

chevron email updates