Raspberry Pi rides on turtle backs to monitor conservation areas

When the Arribada Initiative was looking for a low-cost camera system to keep an eye on wildlife in complex environments, they turned to Raspberry Pi. For those who are not moved by turtle time, there is also a fair amount of penguin action in this blog, so keep reading even if heroes in half-shells aren’t your thing.

If you ever wondered what a turtle-eye view of the sea looked like…

Ahead of their time

It’s pretty common nowadays to see remotely accessible cameras being controlled from afar to do all sorts of things like keep an eye on your bird table or capture timelapse footage over long periods, but that wasn’t the case back in 2017 when Arribada was founded. Their desire to draw attention to threats to wildlife, plus financial constraints and the need to work in harsh environments, saw them adopt technology that was considered groundbreaking at the time.

These fancy waterproof cases are often the most expensive part of the kits

Turtle tagging

Turtle tagging was the first project Arribada took on. They wanted a turtle-eye view of the impact that fishing and other human activity was having. The solution needed to be waterproof at considerable depths, accessible by remote research teams, and affordable.

Team Arribada predicted other suitable cameras would cost £500, so our sub-£50 option was very attractive

Safe, affordable solution

A Raspberry Pi Zero and a Raspberry Pi Camera Module were packed inside a waterproof enclosure, which was then harmlessly attached to the shell of a green sea turtle. Photos, video, and location data are collected from the Raspberry Pi, and the hardware detaches itself from the animal once its job is done. Read more about how this works in our in-depth Success Story about the Arribada initiative.

March of the penguins

Penguinologists are also big fans of Arribada’s low-cost monitoring solutions.

Trickiest game of Where’s Wally ever

Hardware needed to withstand harsh Antarctic winters. The Pi-powered setups were found to have dutifully collected one photograph every day when they were finally serviced after three years out in the field. You can read more about the penguin patrols here.

Raspberry Pi in the natural world

We’ve seen so many incredible applications of Raspberry Pi in the wildlife conservation space, as well as in Earth sciences, that we had our lovely illustrator Sam tell the story in this animated video.

The penguins and turtles protected by Arribada pop up in this video, and you’ll also get to see other initiatives using Raspberry Pi to monitor the Bornean rainforest, volcanoes on Hawaii, beehives in England, and bears in Alaska. It might be the most adorable thing we’ve ever made.


AndrewS avatar

How many of the turtles are teenagers? Hopefully at least four? ;-)

Mike Y. avatar

This was actually the unknown 5th teenage turtle. Instead of wielding a katana, a staff, sais, or nunchakus, this one was master of the most powerful weapon: the raspberry pi zero!

Steve avatar

These turtles aren’t mutants…even the teenagers.

Gene L. avatar

Whenever I read these stories I want to urge people to carefully consider attaching cameras to animals. Wild animals are in a constant struggle for survival, and adding just the slightest drag increases their energy spent, decreases their speed, and changes their interactions with the environment. There is little to no oversight on experimentation on wild animals, no cost / benefit analysis, and obviously no consent. So it falls on individuals to evaluate the tradeoffs, and I hope that is done carefully. I think this is a very well done experiment, but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s never truly harmless.

Ashley Whittaker avatar

Totally agree, Gene. What we didn’t have space to share in such a short blog (based on lots and lots of research and other articles) is that the turtle devices are incredibly small. The images of the devices in this blog relate to the penguin monitoring (which aren’t attached to the penguins). Sorry for not making that more clear in the image captions. An additional benefit for the turtle devices is that they detach themselves once footage has been captured and float to the surface ready for collection so the turtles aren’t encumbered by them for any longer than is necessary to capture useful info about their environment.

Arribada Initiative avatar

Thank you for sharing our work with the Raspberry Pi Zero Ashley and for the thoughtful message Gene. We’ll look forward to sharing more in the future, as these tags are now being used by multiple turtle conservation projects around the world to detect threats, plastic ingestion, seagrass decline and many other factors helping to protect sea turtles.

P.S we may have a surpise soon that involves another member of the Raspberry Pi family that’s even smaller!

Jonte avatar

Hello, how were they powered? Solar I must assume?

Arribada Initiative avatar

Hi Jonte,
They use lithium-ion batteries that are recharged when the tags are recovered. Solar can be challenging as the turtles only expose the tags at the surface for a short period of time, so it’s easier to focus on battery storage and optimisation of battery consumption.

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