Baby turtles placed in ship tank to ride the waves

Baby turtles placed in ship tank to ride the waves

KAGOSHIMA–Marine biologists will test whether endangered baby turtles benefit from a « rock ‘n’ roll » lifestyle.

Three loggerhead turtles and three green turtles are to be raised in the VIP room aboard a ferry boat to determine whether exposure to the rolls and pitches of the vessel around the clock affects how they develop.

The scientists will then determine if they are in better shape than a group of peers growing up in the more settled waters of an aquarium tank.

“The turtles kept in a tank with constant waves may grow differently in size, the way muscles are built and their swiftness to adapt to the ocean, compared with the turtles in the aquarium tank,” said Ryuichiro Nishi, professor of coastal environments at Kagoshima University’s Faculty of Fisheries, who is working on the project.

The turtles, designated by the Environment Ministry as an endangered species, will be housed on a ferry that transports tourists from Kagoshima city to Yakushima island.

Panels describing the habitat of the turtles and conservation efforts will be placed on the ship, the Ferry Yakushima 2, to educate visitors to the island.

“I would like them to become familiar with the turtles’ features before they arrive in Yakushima,” said Kazuyoshi Omuta, representative of Yakushima Umigame-Kan, a conservation group that proposed the project.

The group has long been involved in efforts to conserve the turtles on Yakushima’s Nagatahama beaches, one of the world’s largest spawning grounds for loggerhead turtles. Green turtles also lay eggs there as the island is at the northern limits for their breeding.

The turtles in their tank have been displayed to the public since April.

All female, they were born in Nagatahama in late July last year.

They live in a tank measuring 0.9 meter by 1.8 meters and 1 meter in height. It has been placed in the VIP room on the boat.

Seawater is circulated in the tank around the clock after being pumped in from the ocean. This ensures that the tank resembles their natural environment as close as possible.

Participants in the project, including the staff of Io World Kagoshima City Aquarium in Kagoshima, take turns in feeding the turtles and checking on their health.

They will also regularly weigh them and measure the length of their backs before comparing the results with those of their peers in the aquarium.

Passengers can observe the species for about an hour and half while the vessel, operated by Orita Kisen, is traveling in Kinko Bay near the city of Kagoshima, where the waves are relatively small. But the turtle room can be closed when the seas are rough.

The six traveling turtles are scheduled to be released into the ocean in the summer, along with 14 from the aquarium. An individual identification tag will be attached to each one. Biologists will then be able to track down their migratory routes in the ocean.

The rock ‘n’ roll experiment won’t end there because after the six move into the ocean another batch of baby turtles will take their place aboard the ferry.