NOAA Turtle Tracking
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas
8/13/99

NOAA FISHERIES AND US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE JOIN FORCES TO HELP SAVE SEA TURTLES
Follow their journey via the Internet at www.cccturtle.org

A satellite tagging project that gives biologists a rare opportunity to study one of the nation's most amazing and endangered marine animals -- loggerhead sea turtles – is being carried out by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today.

"We expect this project to provide the agencies with valuable information for making management decisions that will help to ensure the survival of this species," said Barbara Schroeder, the national sea turtle coordinator with NOAA Fisheries and a member of the research tagging team. "Up until very recently, studies of sea turtles were conducted primarily while the turtles nested on ocean beaches -- an activity that accounts for less than 1 percent of their life span. Now, we are able to peer into the interesting and critical behavioral aspects of their life cycles away from their nesting beaches, which will have a great bearing on the recovery of this species and ultimately, their survival."

The collaborative effort is utilizing satellite transmitters attached to the turtle's shell to identify migratory pathways and destinations of Florida loggerheads after they nest. The collected data will help scientists address the threats that sea turtles may encounter while traveling to and from their nesting beaches. The information will contribute to larger efforts helping to ensure the survival of the species.

The work will be conducted along the east and west coasts of Florida, including the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge centered at Melbourne Beach, Florida. Florida beaches account for 90 percent of the nesting of loggerheads in the southeast U.S., a population that is the largest in the western hemisphere and one of the two largest in the world. The loggerhead was listed in 1978 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

"Understanding migratory routes and principal foraging habitats of U.S. nesting loggerheads will allow us to determine what threats exist and what measures are needed to protect the turtles and their habitats away from the nesting beach," said Sandy MacPherson, National Sea Turtle Coordinator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a member of the tagging team. "This information is vitally important to determine where international cooperative efforts are needed to ensure recovery of our shared sea turtle resources."

The public can participate in the loggerhead's journey electronically as part of a public education project spearheaded by the Gainesville based non-profit Caribbean Conservation Corporation's Sea Turtle Survival League. The travels of some of the turtles that will be tagged this summer will be posted at the CCC's website at www.cccturtle.org.

"Through the Sea Turtle Survival League's education program, thousands of people around the U.S. and the world, especially school children, can follow the migrations of sea turtles and learn about them, the threats they face, and how to take part in helping to ensure their survival," said Dan Evans, Sea Turtle Survival League Education Coordinator.

The tagging team will attach satellite transmitters to adult female turtles that have just finished nesting. Each transmitter is a rectangular box about the size of a small, handheld radio. It is attached to the shell with fiberglass cloth and resin and is designed to fall off harmlessly when the batteries are no longer operational. The transmitter sends out radio signals through a small antenna to be picked up by one of several polar orbiting NOAA satellites that collect environmental data around the world. The satellite re-transmits the data to earth where it is processed and made available to the researcher in a usable format. Movements are monitored "remotely" and the researcher is not required to be in close proximity to the turtle. Depending on a number of factors, including the length of time the turtle is at the surface and the position of the satellites relative to the turtle, the location of the turtle can be calculated to within 150 meters of its actual position.

"This great advance in technology allows us to really go where no one has gone before -- on a long-distance migration with a sea turtle," commented Dr. Allen Foley, an Assistant Research Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute and a member of the tagging team. "With satellite telemetry, we essentially receive one or more E-mails a week from each of our turtles reporting their current positions."

Scientists with NOAA Fisheries and the Florida Marine Research Institute, implemented a preliminary study in 1998 and, using satellite telemetry technology, are learning much about the migratory movements and places of residence of loggerhead turtles that nest in Florida. Results from 1998 indicate that the post-nesting loggerheads cover large distances and some travel through and reside in the waters of nations other than the U.S., including Cuba, the Bahamas, and Mexico.

Loggerheads are reddish-brown in color with yellow-bordered scales on the top and sides of the head and top of the flippers. The neck, shoulders and limb bases are usually dull brown on top and medium yellow on the sides and bottom. The average size of an adult loggerhead is about 36 inches (92cm) and they usually weigh about 250 lbs (115 kg). The average size at hatching is a little under 2 inches long, a size that can fit in the palm of your hand. Maturity is reached at between 16-40 years. Mating takes place in late March-early June, and eggs are laid throughout the summer.

Loggerheads remain threatened by accidental capture in trawl, net, and longline fisheries and their habitat, which is critical to their survival, is threatened and destroyed by coastal development, especially beachfront armoring and artificial lighting, increased human use of nesting beaches, and marine pollution. Loggerheads inhabit the continental shelf, bays, estuaries, and lagoons in temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters. In the Atlantic, the loggerhead range extends from Newfoundland to as far south as Argentina. The primary Atlantic nesting sites are along the east coast of Florida, with additional sites in Georgia, the Carolinas, and the Gulf Coast of Florida.