Tracking turtles on Curaçao

Movements of Curaçaoan sea turtles can now be followed by satellite.

At the beginning of September 2015 a new collaboration began between CARMABI, the University of Groningen,  IMARES and Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, which will focus attention on endangered sea turtles. All sea turtle species are either endangered or critically endangered and protected through international treaties. The aim of this project is to use satellite tracking and molecular techniques to characterize sea turtle populations, determine population trends and assess connectivity with turtle populations in the wider Caribbean.

Dr. Marjolijn Christianen and Jurjan van der Zee, from the University of Groningen (RUG), and Gielmon “Funchi” Egbreghts from Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, spent several days on Klein Curaçao with Sabine Berendse (CARMABI and WIDECAST country co-ordinator) and Pieter de Geus (veterinarian involved in the Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao project of CARMABI). The expedition was a great success, and included habitat and turtle surveys on Klein Curacao, Boka Ascenscion and at Wacawa. The undoubted highlight of the field work was placing satellite transmitters on two green turtles.

The transmitter is a small box with an antenna that transmits the location of a sea turtle as soon as she surfaces to breathe, allowing us to follow her migration route online during the coming year.

The first sea turtle to receive a transmitter was named “Miss Mermaid”, after Mermaid Boattrips who support the entire 2015 season of the CARMABI sea turtle project by taking two researchers to Klein Curaçao two times per week for nest surveys, as well as taking the whole team for the satellite transmitter expedition to Klein Curaçao. As a surprise, Dr. Marjolijn Christianen has donated another satellite transmitter to the Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao project of CARMABI. The goal is to place this transmitter on a third green turtle as soon as possible.

CARMABI had hoped to be able to study 20 sea turtles, but succeeded in locating and studying impressive 32 sea turtles thank to the help of the amazing volunteers of Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao. All of the sea turtles were found to be in excellent condition.

The effective protection of sea turtles requires information that is largely lacking for the former Dutch Antilles. Although sea turtles are found throughout the Caribbean, there are a few places they prefer. Among these places are important nesting and foraging areas around the six Dutch islands in the Caribbean. Threats to sea turtle populations include the impacts of climate change on critically important habitats, such as seagrass beds and coral reefs. The results of this study will enhance the protection of sea turtles throughout the Dutch Caribbean.

In May 2014, Prof. Dr. Per J. Palsbøll (RUG), Dr. L.E. Becking (IMARES-WUR) and Dr. M.J.A. Christianen (RUG) received funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for a four-year research project on the ecology of Caribbean sea turtles.

Both CARMABI and the team of RUG look forwards to a long lasting collaboration on sea turtle research on Curaçao.

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