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Signals of Spring Partners with UCF
Teams at UCF are made up of faculty, graduate students, and undergrads. These marine biologists study a variety of topics including sharks, marine ecology, freshwater fisheries, marine mammals and their behaviors, and of course, sea turtles. The UCF turtle biologists study a wide range of issues related to sea turtles including vitamin turtles, population dynamics, diets, health and disease, nesting, and growth rates. The tracking study is part of a series of long-term studies that UCF scientists have been working on in the Indian River Lagoon of East Central Florida for over twenty years. Green and Loggerhead Sea Turtles are given metal flipper tags, and fishermen notify the lab when they are caught in nets or washed up onshore. By collecting the flipper tag data, the Dr. Ehrhart and his team were able to determine some of the areas that these turtles frequent; the tagged turtles were found as far away as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Belize.
Satellite data, however, are even more useful. These data show the UCF scientists to follow the track lines of precisely where the turtles go. But satellite tracking does not come easy. Unlike Leatherback Turtles, which are easier to track because of their large size (up to 750 lbs), the green turtles are much smaller, making it more difficult to attach the transmitters to their carapaces in such a way that they will transmit data to the satellite. Add rough seas or stormy weather to the mix, and satellite tracking is quite difficult. Therefore, the scientists choose only the largest green turtles for these studies, those over 70 cm. long. In the summer of 2001, ten turtles were equipped with satellite tags. Unfortunately, five of the tags stopped transmitting almost immediately. Five of the turtles gave the scientists some very interesting data! Much to their surprise, two of them stayed in the area, two spent the winter in the Florida Keys (one transmitter stopped working in the fall). It seems that these turtles were not feeling very adventurous that winter!
Populations of both loggerheads and green sea turtles are dwindling worldwide due to habitat destruction (mostly on nesting beaches), pollution (including oil and garbage), and an increase of diseases. The satellite tracking studies will help scientists to understand their life histories, behavior, and migration patterns. And according to the UCF turtle biologists, there is some good new for the turtles—sings of recovery! Beginning in 1996, the UCF scientists began to notice an influx of larger green turtles (over 70cm). Since the turtles take approximately six years to reach that size, the scientists are attributing their increase in population to the banning of gill nets in Florida in the early 1990s. Hopefully, Signals of Spring students and UCF scientists will find other turtle connections as well!