Green Pages

Go Gilbert and David!

Turks & Caicos Islands teenage turtles leave home.

By Dr. Peter Richardson, Biodiversity Programme Manager, Marine Conservation Society

You may remember Suzie, the adult female Green turtle and the first turtle to be satellite tracked in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Suzie amazed us all with her incredible 3,700 mile return journey through the territories of 15 Caribbean nations over 5 months in 2009 and 2010 (see Green Pages in Spring 2010 Times of the Islands). Now there are two new trail-blazing turtle celebrities from the TCI —Gilbert and David, the teenage Green turtles!
To date, nine Green and Hawksbill turtles have been satellite tracked by the Marine Conservation Society’s collaborative Turks & Caicos Islands Turtle Project (TCITP) which seeks to find out more about the movements and range of these notorious ocean navigators. Gilbert and David were caught, tagged and released on the Caicos Banks by TCITP Officer Amdeep Sanghera in late August 2011, with help from legendary turtle fishers Gilbert Jennings and Dave Clare.

Gilbert released

Amdeep Sanghera and Tommy Philips release Gilbert onto the Caicos Banks.

At the time the turtles were too young for Amdeep to determine whether or not they were male or female. However, our project partners at the University of Exeter recently analysed a sample of David’s blood, carefully taken after capture by Amdeep, and found that “he” is in fact a “she.” Taking blood samples from larger sub-adult turtles can be tricky, and Amdeep was unable to get a sample from Gilbert, so we still don’t know “his” sex. Nevertheless, because he is called Gilbert, we still like to think he is a male!
For nine months, Gilbert and David stayed close together where they were released on the Banks close to Windward Passage Going Through. But on May 30, 2012, much to our surprise, Gilbert headed west towards Providenciales. The next day he had passed by Leeward Marina and was out into the deep ocean. For the next couple of weeks, Gilbert continued north, doggedly negotiating oceanic eddies before arriving at Little Abaco Island in the Bahamas on June 17.
Meanwhile, back in South Caicos, Amdeep and DEMA Conservation Officer Tommy Phillips were posting maps of Gilbert’s journey on the walls of bars, supermarkets and other public places for all to see. Gilbert Jennings and Dave Clare were among the many South Caicos residents who regularly checked the maps to follow the turtle’s journey. They joked that, like most TCI Belongers, Gilbert the turtle was heading to Florida to do some shopping!
Gilbert passed through Little Bahama Bank before swimming straight across the mighty Gulf Stream. He arrived on the Florida coast on June 27, just north of Daytona Beach. But the “Sunshine State” was not for Gilbert, who carried on swimming north, past Georgia and South Carolina, before finally reaching his destination, Pamlico Sound in North Carolina. He had travelled over 2,100 miles! The Sound is known for its summer gatherings of Green turtles feeding on the lush, shallow, seagrass meadows, but Fall temperatures are very cold there, so we expect Gilbert will head south again later in the year.
As Gilbert reached Pamlico Sound, David made her move, skirting Providenciales before heading west. By August 2, 2012, she had reached the shores of Holguin Province, Cuba. Sadly, David then dropped off the radar and at the time of writing (August 8, 2012) we had received no further transmissions from her. Her tag may have simply fallen off, or perhaps the tag batteries expired, but it is also possible that she was caught for the pot. Despite a 2008 ban on turtle fishing in Cuba, an illegal turtle fishery continues, unmanaged and unmonitored. We are keeping our fingers crossed that David did not run into a fisherman’s net.
Track sea turtles

Track of Gilbert and David in 2012


So why did these turtles leave their TCI home? Gilbert and David are large teenage turtles with shells measuring over 28 inches, so they are approaching maturity (Suzie’s shell was 40 inches long). Green turtles reach maturity at about 20 years of age, and adult turtles are usually found on different foraging grounds to those occupied by youngsters. The theory goes that sub-adult turtles leave their feeding grounds to seek out adult feeding grounds closer to the region where they themselves hatched out as baby turtles and where they return when they mature and start breeding. If this theory is true, then Gilbert may have come from one of the many Green turtle nesting beaches along the south-eastern coast of the USA. Green turtles are protected in the USA and in recent year, nesting populations there have started to show signs of recovery. So Gilbert may be the legacy of a conservation success story!
Both Gilbert’s and David’s journeys shows us that the TCI also shares responsibility to look after this important, regionally-shared resource. As a result of extended discussions with TCI turtle fishers, government officers and other community members throughout the Islands, the TCITP is now drafting a new set of proposed measures and regulations included as part of a comprehensive turtle fishery management plan. One of these measures involves the introduction of a maximum size limit for landed turtles that will protect sub-adult turtles like Gilbert and David, and breeding adult turtles like Suzie. By protecting these important larger turtles, we hope to ensure that turtle fishing in TCI is responsible and sustainable, so that TCI residents and visitors can continue to enjoy turtles for generations to come.
Many people in the Turks & Caicos Islands, including school teachers and students, fishermen, shop and restaurant owners, plant workers and government officers, are avidly tracking these satellite-tagged turtles online. You can too, by logging onto: http://www.mcsuk.org/conservation_in_action/Marine+ turtles/Tracking+turtles/Tracking+turtles.
If you want to find out more about the project, contact Amdeep Sanghera on 649 347 6651 or at amdeep.sanghera@mcsuk.org.
Gilbert’s tag was funded by the UK’s National Marine Aquarium and David’s was sponsored by the British Chelonia Group. The Amanyara Resort in Providenciales has sponsored another tag. If you would like to support the TCITP and sponsor a satellite-tagged turtle, please contact Amdeep, or go to  http://www.mcsuk.org/donations/turtle_donation.php.



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