Understanding the distribution of sea turtles at each of their life stages is fundamental to their conservation. This is the goal of the Inwater Research Group, Inc. (IRG), a group of dedicated biologists who study in-water populations of sea turtles (as opposed to land-based nesting research) throughout Florida.
Recently, the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation partnered with IRG to spend several days surveying the waters west of Key West in the Marquesas Keys in search of loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles.
The conditions were ideal for turtle counts, which entail two observers perched in a boat’s tuna tower calling out the species, size, and location of each turtle they spot down to data recorders on deck. Don’t be fooled; this isn’t always an easy chore...the turtles are so abundant in some locations that the data recorders can barely keep up. During just four 6-km survey transects one day, the team counted in excess of 250 large subadult and adult green turtles, many zipping away from the boat at near-light speed and all too often colliding with others, scattering turtles in all directions.
In some cases, turtles are captured to gather basic information concerning their body condition, size, weight etc. Easier said than done. Out here, the turtles are big; two- to- four-hundred pounds big. This imposing trait, however, becomes their disadvantage during tests of stamina.
The chosen turtles quickly tire after a short boat chase, and unwillingly permit their exhausted selves to be hand-captured and carefully hauled through a specially-designed access hatch in the boat’s port side.
On June 28th, a previously-tagged turtle was captured that has an interesting history. “Flagler”, as she is known, was first captured near the Marquesas Keys in July of 2008 as a subadult weighing in at 70.5 kg (155 lbs.). She carried a satellite transmitter for 116 days before it stopped transmitting. Eight years later, there she was (definitely a she), still hanging out near her original capture site, only she’s 56 kg (123 lbs.) heavier, now topping the scales at 275 lbs.!
National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation