Sea turtles are very long-lived and highly migratory animals. Throughout their life-histories, sea turtles occur in geographically diverse habitats at different stages during their lifespan. These habitats may include the open-ocean and near-shore coastal or estuarine waters. Turtles may travel thousands of miles within any given year. Thus, it is easiest to study sea turtles while they are on land—on their nesting or natal beaches. However, this only accounts for a small fraction of their lives, ignores turtles’ juvenile stages, and, in the case of adult sea turtles, is mostly limited to females.
In order to understand turtles in a marine environment, scientists require the use of remote tracking technologies such as satellite telemetry. Satellite telemetry involves the use of a transmitting tag that is attached to a turtle, usually to its shell, or carapace. These tags communicate with satellites orbiting overhead and will provide data regarding the turtle’s location (latitude and longitude), along with optional sensor data that may record ambient sea temperature and depth for analyses of dive behavior. Additionally, remote sensing data such as sea surface temperature, wind and current directions, and nutrient availability, may be combined with track data (latitude/longitude) to allow scientists a better understanding of the habitat within which the turtles may be found.
Satellite telemetry provides a unique and valuable understanding of turtles’ movements and behavior. It allows managers to assess where turtles are occurring and whether there are human hazards in the region such as fishing or channel dredging activities. It provides insight into seasonal movements and migratory patterns that may in turn allow managers identify critical migratory routes or seasonal feeding grounds.
There are several online data banks that allow the public to view sea turtle track data. One excellent example is found on seaturtle.org’s website:
This site provides teaching tools and allows classrooms to download real-time data and subscribe to tracking data feeds. Turtle research projects from all over the world post tracks to this site, driving home the global span of these unique species.
A Kemp’s Ridley female with satellite tag on the carapace before her release in the Atlantic Ocean; Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton, Florida
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