TCI Turtles Fitted with Satellite Transmitters on the Move!

ATI (2 of 5)

ATI (3 of 5)Providenciales, 14 May 2015 – Two more teenage green turtles have been captured and fitted with hi-tech satellite transmitters, then released on the Caicos Banks as part of ongoing research by the Turks and Caicos Islands Turtle Project (TCITP) to find out about the movements of these spectacular animals. At the beginning of the month TCITP staff from the UK’s Marine Conservation Society, the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) and the Amanyara Resort worked with South Caicos fishermen to catch the turtles and attach the transmitters.

While one of the turtles, named Sea Biscuit, has remained close to Ocean Hole where they were released 10 days ago, the other turtle, Yara, started heading west yesterday, possibly on a ‘developmental migration’, a rarely recorded and poorly understood behavior that the project hopes to track.

“Little is known about the habits and movements of sub-adult, or teenage, turtles. Unlike nesting adult female turtles, these teenagers spend all their time at sea and so are less accessible and much harder to study,” said Dr Peter Richardson of the Marine Conservation Society, “We can track these turtles in TCI because we work with South Caicos fishermen who are experts at catching them, and so far in this research we recorded TCI teenage turtle developmental migrations to Colombia, Cuba and North Carolina in the USA.”

So far the TCITP has tracked 19 turtles, including 13 teenage green turtles, four adult hawksbills and 2 adult green turtles, one of which was Suzie. Suzie was the first turtle to be tracked in TCI and in 2009 migrated over 3,700 miles through the territories of 15 different countries before returning to TCI in January 2010.

“The recent movements of Yara are very exciting, this turtle could be migrating away from TCI and if so, we really don’t know where she is going, so we’ll be experiencing new scientific discovery before our very eyes,” said Dr Richardson, “We are so very grateful to the support of the Amanyara Turtle Initiative and Amanyara guests Stephen Meringoff and Kim Charlton for generously supporting this exciting research – and thanks to them anyone can track the journeys of these amazing animals by going to the Marine Conservation Society’s website where there are dedicated TCI turtle tracking pages.”

Green turtles are listed as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and are considered a culturally important marine resource in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They have been fished and enjoyed for centuries in the TCI, and, in more recent decades, have also been a highlight for many divers and snorkelers holidaying in the islands. The tracking study hopes to understand which feeding areas are important to these large green turtles in TCI waters, whether or not these areas need protection, and which other countries share green turtle populations with the TCI

The TCITP is a collaborative initiative involving DEMA, local fishermen, the UK’s Marine Conservation Society and University of Exeter, Duke University in the USA, the School for Field Studies in South Caicos and the Amanyara Resort in Providenciales. The Project has been carrying out biological research, social research and extensive stakeholder engagement with fishing communities in the TCI since 2008, primarily through former Project Officer Amdeep Sanghera.

The TCITP’s recommendations, which were produced through consultation with fishermen, to amend and improve the legislation that regulates the TCI’s traditional turtle fishery were approved by TCI Government last year and came into force in July. The new regulations introduced new size limits, including 18 inch minimum shell length and 24 inch maximum shell length size limits for green and hawksbill turtles. These new limits protect small turtles, as well as large teenage and breeding adult turtles in TCI, but still allow fishers to access juvenile turtles of a good eating size. An eight-month closed season for hawksbills was also introduced during the lobster open season, which gives hawksbill turtles additional protection during their peak breeding season.

The new turtle fishery regulations, including the new size limits, have been printed on T-shirts bearing a turtle image and the slogan “Size Matters in the Turks and Caicos Islands” and are currently being distributed by DEMA to promote the new laws.

Sea Biscuit and Yara are larger than 24 inch shell length and so are now protected under TCI fishery laws. The tracking study hopes to discover where these teenage turtles go and understand whether or not they are protected in the other countries they visit.

DEMA respectfully requests anyone encountering a turtle fitted with a satellite transmitter in TCI waters to please leave it well alone and report it to DEMA officers. People are encouraged to track the turtles online by logging into www.mcsuk.org/conservation_in_action/Marine+turtles/Tracking+turtles

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