This satellite-tagged turtle will signal its position each time the aerial breaks the sea surface.

This satellite-tagged turtle will signal its position each time the aerial breaks the sea surface.

By Keirissa Lawson

We all know that the sewers of New York City, with their proximity to pizza shops and evil villains, provide a thriving habitat for teenage mutant ninja turtles.

But how much do we know about the habitat and movement of real turtles?

Scientists from CSIRO and the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, led by CSIRO’s Dr Mat Vanderklift, are capturing and tagging green sea turtles in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area off Western Australia, to gain a better understanding of sea turtle ecology.

“This is the first time turtle tagging studies of this kind have been conducted in the Ningaloo area,” said Dr Vanderklift. “Understanding where the turtles forage for food and how far they roam will provide invaluable information for ongoing management of these iconic animals in this World Heritage Area.”

Since February this year, Dr Vanderklift and his team have fitted 17 green sea turtles with acoustic tags which track the movement of the turtles as they pass by specialised listening stations in Mangrove Bay. Another two turtles from the same area have been fitted with satellite tags. Each time the aerial on the tag breaks the sea surface a signal is sent to a satellite and used to pinpoint the turtle’s position.

Each captured turtle has its vital statistics measured and logged before being tagged and released.

Each captured turtle has its vital statistics measured and logged before being tagged and released.

The tags, attached to the turtle’s carapace (shell), will give scientists an insight into the range and foraging patterns of these threatened marine reptiles. In addition, scientists are using remote underwater video to observe turtle behaviour up close.

“So far we have looked at more than 140 hours of video and have found that turtles tend to spend quite a lot of time in seaweed patches in the lagoon during the day,” said Dr Vanderklift.

Local students from Exmouth Primary School are getting behind the turtle tagging study and will name the two satellite-tagged turtles.

You too can follow the turtles’ tracks in near-real time.

Dr Mat Vanderklift releasing a tagged green sea turtle.

Dr Mat Vanderklift releasing a tagged green sea turtle.

This project is a partnership between CSIRO, the Western Australian Departments of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and Fisheries (DoF) and the Cape Conservation Group. The research is supported by funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Caring for our Country initiative.