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Turtle Travels Unraveled

“Stay at home” turtles are valuable to boosting local populations.

By Peter Richardson, Biodiversity Programme Manager, Marine Conservation Society

In recent decades, scientists have discovered more and more about the amazing navigational ability of marine turtles. Through satellite tracking we have recorded epic migrations of female turtles making journeys of thousands of kilometres from nesting beaches to feeding grounds. These global wanderers can regularly travel across entire oceans in the course of their fascinating lives. But what about the turtles that stay at home? As the number of turtle tracking projects increases around the world, so does our knowledge, and we are now discovering that not all turtles choose to embark on these astonishing migrations.

DECR Officer Tommy Philips releases Jerry, the adult male Hawksbill

DECR Officer Tommy Philips releases Jerry, the adult male Hawksbill

The Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) Turtle Project has so far attached satellite transmitters to six adult turtles. Suzie, a female Green turtle and the first turtle to be tagged, stole the show and made the headlines with her incredible 6,000 km round trip around the eastern Caribbean. The latest turtle to be tagged, another female Green turtle named Shyvonne, was tagged this September on Gibbs Cay. After completing her nesting season, she then migrated about 750 km to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, where she seems to have settled and where she is protected under US law.
In contrast, the four adult Hawksbill turtles we have tagged have all remained within TCI waters. The males named Jerry, Tom and Deep were all in breeding condition when they were tagged last year, but in the 12 months that they have been tracked have wandered only a few kilometres from where they were released at Fish Cay and the Seal Cays, respectively. Another Hawksbill, Jewel, a beautiful fat and healthy adult female, nested five times on a beach on East Caicos soon after she was tagged, but then travelled only 6 km to her feeding grounds on Philips Reef where she has remained ever since.
These stay-at-home turtles are equally as important as those headline-grabbing, long-distance migrators. Our research tells us that in recent decades the nesting turtle populations within the TCI have sharply declined. The survival of the stay-at-home turtles will therefore be key to the successful recovery of the country’s nesting turtle populations. However, the current TCI laws allow the capture of adult turtles, so the stay-at-home turtles are at greater risk from the current year-round turtle fishery in the TCI.
The TCI Turtle Project aims to change this, not only through developing new fishery management and laws with TCI fishermen to protect these important breeding turtles, but also by generating greater understanding amongst the public of the importance of their very own stay-at-home turtles.
To that end, we are keen to attach more satellite transmitters to more adult turtles in TCI waters and are seeking funding to expand this exciting element of the project. If you are interested in supporting the Turks & Caicos Islands Turtle Project in this way, please contact Project Manager Peter Richardson at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) at peter.richardson@mcsuk.org. The turtles already tagged by the Turks & Caicos Islands Turtle Project can be tracked online at www.seaturtle.org/tracking/?project_id=398. To join the Marine Conservation Society, visit www.mcsuk.org.



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Susan Anacker
Mar 15, 2017 17:17

I saw a hawksbill turtle that had a metal tag on both front flippers.
It read “WS 2571”.
Can you give me any good informs on it?
I have been diving in Grand Turk for the past 8 days and have seen it twice. I have videos of it, and it looks very healthy.
Thanks,
Sue Anacker

Katharine
Mar 6, 2018 15:14

Hi Susan,

This turtle was tagged on July 5th 2016 in the patch reef in front of the Bohio Dive Resort. It was captured and tagged by the Department of the Environment and Coastal Resources as part of the ongoing sea turtle monitoring project in the TCI. It is great to hear the turtle is still in the area!

Thanks for this information!

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