This is the season when populations of sea turtles come back to South Florida beaches to nest. This week, scientists are watching for one in particular.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy has been following a tracker that pings satellites from the back of “TURQ,” a leatherback sea turtle.
The pings have continued more than 700 days after it was attached. It’s unusual the turtle trackers continue to work for this long, particularly on leatherbacks.
Dr. Daniel R. Evans is the Senior Research Biologist with the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
“What we see in sea turtles is that they actually follow the same tracks in where they nest and where they find food," he said. "We’re not sure about leatherbacks, because it’s very rare for us to get the opportunity to track and do a second track away from a nesting beach on the same turtle.”
They believe TURQ will return to theArchie Carr Refuge in Brevard County in the next four or five days.
Since the turtle has been offering such great information, scientists will see if they can find her and clean the tracker to continue the information gathering.
“We expect them to go these far distances, travel these far distances, but what makes TURQ unique is that it’s very rare to get a 2-year track on a turtle, especially a leatherback turtle," Evans said. "And so, we’re learning a lot about where she’s going, but also how she’s come back.”
Viewer David Wallis captured video from Singer Island a few days ago, showing fresh turtle tracks.
Evans said sea turtles have an internal compass that brings them back to the same beach every two or three years to lay eggs. It’s often the same beach, where they hatched decades prior. The tracker is often gone by this time in the journey.
“It either comes off, which it’s designed to, we don’t want it stay on forever, or the batteries die, or the antennae that’s very sensitive gets damaged, there’s stuff growing on it, there’s a wide variety of things that can happen to it to cause a transmitter to stop sending signals," Evans said. "And for leatherbacks, because they’re going these vast distances, the transmitter tends to be damaged or have more growth on it than for other species of sea turtles that we track.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers several helpful tips to protecting sea turtles. Watching your speed in boats on the water, being aware of lights at night, being careful around nests and other efforts can save their lives.
“Plastic bags and helium balloons that are in the water and look a lot like jellyfish, so they mistakenly eat that kind of trash, and marine trash, thinking it’s food," Evans said. "And they can’t get rid of it and they have to swallow it. It can cause them to have all kinds of problems, including starving to death unfortunately.”
Our multi-county section of South Florida is the peak area for leatherback sea turtles to nest.
“Hopefully we’ll try to encounter her on the beach, when she comes up and nests and make sure that that transmitter’s in good condition," Evans said of TURQ. "Maybe clean it off, and if everything looks good, leave it on her and maybe get another track of her going back to her feeding area.”
Evans said most trends in South Florida nests have been positive in recent years.
Sea Turtle Conservancy puts on the “Tour de Turtles” watching five turtles from Florida and five turtles from Panama on June 16, World Sea Turtle Day. Observers will watch for six months to see how far the turtles go.