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Go online to track sea turtles released by CSI and partners

Go online to track sea turtles released by CSI and partners

Nine sea turtles were released into the Gulf Stream recently, five of which were loggerhead yearlings with satellite transmitters attached to their backs.

The turtles were released by researchers from the UNC Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a tracking initiative to understand sea turtle dispersal and habitat use.

They were raised or rehabilitated at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The Aquarium aids sea turtles brought to them by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, whose volunteers monitor sea turtle nests and bring in turtles that need help, whether they are from an excavation or a stranding. The five yearling research subjects hatched on Bogue Banks last fall near the Aquarium.

The transmitters are attached to the turtle’s carapace (shell) with epoxy resin and are designed to withstand up to 300 days at sea. The transmitters are recharged by solar power and use satellite telemetry to pinpoint their location every time a turtle returns to the surface for air.

Real-time tracking of the animals is available at Sea Turtle Tracking  for educators and others interested in the research.

The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island was used as a staging area for attaching the transmitters and preparing the turtles for release.

Kate Mansfield, assistant professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Central Florida, spent a decade developing this method of neonatal turtle tagging.  Much of what is known about sea turtles is based on mature individuals, leaving a gap of information concerning early development. This research aims to fill that gap by revealing where these endangered species go and how they interact with the Gulf Stream.

Dr. Lindsay Dubbs, a research associate in the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, has teamed up with interdisciplinary researchers like Mansfield to assess the potential for ecological impacts of Gulf Stream turbines as part of the UNC CSI Renewable Ocean Energy Program.

The primary focus of Dubb’s research has been on sargassum, a floating macro-algae found in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which attracts a wide array of marine species including sea turtles. Researchers believe neonatal and juvenile sea turtles rely on sargassum communities as a refuge from predators and a place to find food.

“Collaboration with NOAA researchers Larisa Avens, Joanne McNeil and April Goodman Hall has allowed us to explore the use of the Gulf Stream by sea turtles as a component of our ecological and environmental characterization,” said Dubbs, who is the project’s principal investigator.

“Their expertise and experience are huge assets to the project, as are their contacts. For instance, we were very fortunate to have Kate Mansfield join us to tag these sea turtles. We are hoping to be able to track at least some of the released turtles for a few months and continue to collaborate with researchers at NOAA, UCF, and the NC Aquariums, linking sea turtles with other elements of the Gulf Stream being researched thanks to the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program,” Dubbs added.

In addition to the sea turtle release, UNC CSI technicians took surface water and sargassum samples from different locations within the Gulf Stream, which will undergo analysis at the Institute as researchers strive to better understand this unique habitat.

For more information, visit the UNC Coastal Studies Institute Renewable Ocean Energy Program.