Tracking Sea Turtles by Satellite (Cayman Islands, UK, USA)
Ambassador, an Endangered Caribbean Loggerhead sea turtle, was tagged with a state-of-the-art Satellite Transmitter this week in the Cayman Islands. Her migration can now be tracked by scientists, school children, and members of the public in real time, via an innovative online satellite-tracking project at http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/
High-resolution photographs of the turtle, transmitter attachment, and release are available for media use. For previews, see http://www.seaturtle.org/cgi-bin/imagelib/index.pl?cat=525&thumb=1
High resolution maps are available upon request.
Researchers from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment in collaboration with the UK’s Marine Turtle Research Group attached a satellite transmitter to Ambassador when the Endangered Sea Turtle nested in the Cayman Islands last week. Ambassador left her nesting beach in the Cayman Islands and has traveled over 500 kilometers across open ocean. Since she was tagged, the giant 300-pound Loggerhead turtle traveled southwest along the edge of the Cayman Trench (a submarine canyon which reaches depths of up to four miles) and circled the Misteriosa Bank in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, diving to depths of over 110 meters (360 feet). Recent updates from her transmitter show that she has now returned to nest in the Cayman Islands for a second time, before she begins her long-distance migration to a feeding area overseas. Ambassador is the first of five turtles that will be tracked this summer from the Cayman Islands.
The state-of-the-art satellite transmitter for Ambassador was sponsored by the Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman, as an outreach and education project. Through community sponsorship, scientists, school children and thousands of others worldwide are able to follow Ambassador’s international migration on the project’s website, http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/.
The Turtle Tracking Website was developed by web-based non-profit SEATURTLE.ORG, in collaboration with the Marine Turtle Research Group and a consortium of other conservation organizations.
"The turtle tracking site provides pioneering access to research on Caribbean turtles, " said Dr. Michael Coyne, Founder of SEATURTLE.ORG. “It has created a great deal of interest and we hope to generate even more, especially among students.”
Tracking turtles by satellite
When Ambassador comes to the surface to breathe, the transmitter on the back of her shell sends information on her position and diving behavior to satellites orbiting the earth. The satellites that detect Ambassador’s location are over 700 km high and travel around the globe in just over 1.5 hours. Information from the satellites is rapidly relayed to researchers, allowing them follow her migration across the open ocean, and to students, fostering an awareness of the interconnection of oceanic ecosystems.
Transmitters are attached with a special kind of strong epoxy (glue), which is lightweight, waterproof, and harmless to turtles. The weight of a transmitter represents less than 0.5% of the turtle’s weight, and the transmitters will detach naturally over time.
Endangered Caribbean Heritage
Despite historical populations estimated in the millions, sea turtles nesting in the Cayman Islands are now endangered, with less than 10 loggerhead turtles and 10 green turtles nesting per year. When Christopher Columbus discovered the islands, he named them “Las Tortugas” (the turtles), but as in much of the Caribbean, commercial exploitation drove the immense population to near-extinction by the beginning of the 19th century. Today, sea turtles remain an essential part of the heritage and culture of the Cayman Islands, but only a few dozen nesting turtles such as Ambassador remain.
Why is Ambassador migrating?
Migration is part of the natural life cycle of wild sea turtles. At the beginning of the summer, adult male and female turtles travel to the Cayman Islands to breed and nest. Then the turtles travel back to feeding grounds in other countries, where they live until it is time for them to nest again a few years later.
“Satellite tracking is the only way to follow Endangered Sea Turtles during their international migrations,” explained Janice Blumenthal, a graduate student working with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and the Marine Turtle Research Group. “The information we are receiving from Ambassador’s satellite transmitter will help us to understand and protect our Endangered sea turtles, both in the Cayman Islands and on their distant feeding grounds.”
Where will Ambassador go? Log-on to http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking
to find out!