March 5, 2013: “Tortuga!” We hear a shout in the darkness and quickly swing the boat around. Through the red safety light from our headlamps, we try to make out the scene: a large sea turtle, splashing and swinging its flippers as it tries to free itself from a diver skillfully holding it at the surface. The boat pulls alongside them, hands reach down, and the turtle is lifted aboard. A camera flash reveals it’s a green turtle, most likely female. A cloth is placed over her eyes and she calms instantly. We settle down from the excitement and head back toward land, where we’ll bring the turtle to the lab for tagging.
Soon enough she’ll be returned to the reef, but wearing a satellite transmitter that will track her movements. The device is harmless to the turtle, but a powerful tool for conservation. Every time the turtle surfaces, the tag signals a satellite which picks up data that can be transformed into maps of turtle movements. We use this information to identify important feeding or nesting areas and potential interaction with fisheries, where too often sea turtles become victims of bycatch.
Hopefully, with every shout of “tortuga” we are moving one step closer to keeping turtles safe.
Learn more about sea turtles.