Embarking on a new research and conservation initiative, the Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife Encounter has introduced a new element to its release programme.
With the ability to fit released green sea turtles with satellite transmitters, the crew may release farm-reared wildlife to the ocean and monitor the released turtles. When the animal surfaces during a transmission period, the tag sends a signal to a satellite, indicating its location.
On 19 February, the farm released the first satellite-tagged second-generation, captive bred juvenile green sea turtle. Affectionately named Jerry by his sponsors, this turtle was released at a private event in East End among the sponsor’s family and friends. Jerry was sponsored by Cory Strander and family, who own a vacation home on Queen’s Highway.
“Mr. Strander lives in Louisiana and runs several different businesses. It was through a business relationship that he became aware of the new sponsorship opportunity and we were delighted to have our first ‘Tag and Track’ sponsor,” said Tim Adam, managing director of Cayman Turtle Farm.
As Jerry travels, the team at the farm has used the data as signs that it – as the turtle is too young for external gender identification – has survived introduction into the wild, and scientists, both at the farm and in like-minded organisations globally, may view and assess the turtle’s migration path.
“Jerry’s transmission on Sunday afternoon 15 April showed that the turtle was approximately 16 miles south of the cays near Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), Cuba, and heading north,” Mr. Adam said. “After having stayed close to shore around Grand Cayman apparently feeding comfortably and spending most of the time in the North Sound for the first few weeks, it seems Jerry was getting ready for a long journey.”
Mr. Adam continued, “This is an exciting time for us. Today scientists believe that sea turtles play many important ecological roles in the environment. For example, green sea turtles are thought to help maintain the health of the sea grass beds from which they feed, and healthy sea grass beds are important to the overall marine environment such as coral shoals, sand bars, reefs and beaches.”
“There is still much to be discovered and we are continuing to play a part in solving these mysteries,” he said. “Just as important for us in Cayman especially is the cultural significance of the green sea turtle – in helping them we help keep alive our very own heritage. Of course, we cannot do this alone and all tracked turtle releases need the support of sponsors from the community and we look forward to that continued support with Jerry being just the first of several.”
Satellite tracking and monitoring, or satellite telemetry, is a process where a tracking device called a position tracking terminal is attached to a sea turtle’s shell. The device sends signals to a satellite when the turtle comes to the surface during pre-set transmission time windows. These signals are messages to scientists via the satellite regarding the location of the turtle, and other data such as maximum dive duration and percentage of time spent underwater. The positions are then plotted onto a map. The devices are designed to cause as little disruption to the swimming sea turtle as possible, and to keep transmitting for months.
Thousands of satellite transmitters are in use around the world covering a broad range of projects ranging from monitoring ocean circulation, polar currents, and natural hazards, to movements of wildlife, which includes turtles. Other species that have been tagged and tracked include marine animals such as whales and sharks, as well as various land animals and birds.
“The Department of the Environment has previously attached satellite tags to a few adult turtles that had returned to nest on our beaches,” said Walter Mustin, chief research officer at the Cayman Turtle Farm. “Traditional tagging studies (using ‘living tags’) have shown that juveniles released from the farm decades ago are now returning to nest on Cayman beaches. It is exciting to now be able to employ this satellite tracking method on our second generation captive-bred juvenile turtles from the time they are first released into the wild. Using satellite telemetry we can begin to answer questions like: Is there a pattern to the juvenile turtle’s movements and migration? Do they stay around known food sources? How are their movements related to ocean currents? How fast do they move? How much time do they spend submerged in shallow or deep water? Where are they during those ‘lost years’? Do they migrate to the coastlines of other countries? These are some of the many questions that satellite tracking studies can help answer. If the transmitter is fitted properly and securely it can yield up to a year’s worth of useful information via satellite.”
For more information about the “Tag and Track” sponsorship packages e-mail [email protected]