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Researchers Track Marine Turtle Movements

June 24, 2011

A University of Exeter team has monitored the movements of an entire sub-population of marine turtle for the first time. The study confirms that through satellite tracking we can closely observe the day-to-day lives of marine turtles, accurately predicting their migrations and helping direct conservation efforts.

Writing in the journal Diversity and Distributions, lead author and University of Exeter PhD student Dr Lucy Hawkes (now at Bangor University) describes the migrations of a population of loggerhead turtles in the US Atlantic Ocean over a decade (1998). The findings reveal that, despite travelling thousands of miles every year, they rarely leave the waters of the USA or the continental shelf. This discovery could help the US direct conservation efforts where it is needed most.

Monitoring focused on adult females that nest along the coast from North Carolina to Georgia each summer and showed that they forage in shallow warm waters off most of the United States eastern seaboard. The study also revealed that the turtles which travel as far north to forage as New Jersey have to head south to avoid the cold winter there.

Dr Lucy Hawkes said: “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that anyone has been able to say precisely where and when you would find an entire sub-population of marine turtles. This is incredibly useful for conservation as it tells us exactly where to put our efforts. We knew that satellite tracking was a valuable tool, but this study highlights how powerful it is ““ without it we would still be guessing where these beautiful but vulnerable creatures live.”

Dr Brendan Godley who led the University of Exeter team has been using satellite tracking to monitor sea turtles since 1997. He said: “By attaching small satellite tracking devices to turtles’ shells, we can accurately monitor their whereabouts. Working with biologists and conservation groups around the world we are starting to build a much clearer picture of the lives of marine turtles, including their migrations, breeding and feeding habits. These findings form a valuable resource for conservation groups, who are concerned with protecting turtles from threats posed by fishing, pollution and climate change.”

Image Credit: Alan Rees

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