Sea turtles are the ancient mariners of our oceans. After hatching on a beach, they can cross thousands of miles of ocean to reach areas teeming with food. After frequenting these in-water restaurants and growing strong, they swim that distance all over again to find a mate and reproduce.
Right now, the future for sea turtles does not look bright. In the Pacific, all species are facing some risk of extinction. Even if we want to protect them, scientists do not often know such basic information as their travel paths, meaning just their outs and abouts. The biggest barrier in the race against time to save sea turtle species is funding to allow for data collection.
El Ñuro, Peru is home to one of these in-water restaurants for young and adult sea turtles. Unfortunately, we don’t know where they come from or where they go when they leave the rich waters of El Ñuro. Without this information, we cannot protect them. Our team will place satellite tags on five young El Ñuro green turtles and follow their movements after they leave this haven. Since our team has a strong presence in the community, we will invite everyone to follow the turtles with us! It will be a unique opportunity for scientists and the local community to be in the front seat as we discover where these turtles are going once they head out beyond the deep blue waters of El Ñuro.
Imagine you are a child growing up in El Ñuro, Peru. You enjoy watching the turtles swimming around the pier, popping their heads up and breathing out a loud “whoosh!” of air. The scientists who study the turtles show movies in the community. You learn that sea turtles are born on beaches far away, and swim miles and miles as they grow up. You also learn that most sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean are in trouble. Too many are being caught in fishing nets and not making it back to nesting beaches. You worry about not seeing any more turtles swimming around the pier.
All sea turtle species in the Pacific are threatened with extinction. They are difficult to protect in part because they travel long distances regardless of national boundaries. The accidental catch of sea turtles in fishing gear is responsible for thousands of deaths a year. Protecting sea turtles often requires national and international cooperation.
Sea turtles are a shared resource! In the North Pacific, sea turtle migrations connect Japanese schoolchildren who watch hatchlings emerge on nesting beaches with fishermen in Mexico working to eliminate accidental catch of turtles in their nets. In order to start this process in the South Pacific, we need to find out where the El Ñuro turtles go. Only once we know their travel paths can we organize a conservation effort. Our conservation effort in El Ñuro, Peru, is well underway! You can help us expand it across community and national lines.
In order to track where the green turtles go, we need to attach satellite tags to the turtles’ shells. This is the most expensive part of the project – even the full $5,000 will only cover 3 satellite tags!
A satellite tag records a turtle’s position every time a turtle comes to the surface to take a breath. Additionally, satellite tags are equipped to take temperature and depth measurements. This allows us to see whether the turtle’s path is influenced by the water temperature and how deep a turtle is diving for food.
Discovering the green turtles’ migration paths is the first step to learning more about this species and how to protect it. We as scientists know we can’t do this alone! That is why ecOceánica has been organizing community outreach activities, allowing children and fishermen to learn about the turtles and how they, as a community, can protect their treasured resource. Moreover, they are supporting the establishment of ecoturism with sea turtles in the area which gives an added value to the turtles and fishermen can really experience that they are more worthy alive than dead. Something that we are sure will spread to nearby towns were they are still being captured. Your money can fund the satellite tags we attach to turtle shells as well as our community outreach activities. Your money can enable us to discover this species’ migration paths. This will not only help protect the species, but also link communities.
We hope to discover the Green Sea turtle’s migration paths in the South Pacific.
Maria Wojakowski is a PhD student in Biology at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. She began studying turtles as part of the science research program at Townsend Harris High School in New York City. This involved spending long, sweaty, mosquito-infested hours following nesting diamondback terrapins around Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, one of the only protected salt marsh systems in New York. If you’ve flown into JFK, you’ve flown over Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge! Next time, look out of your plane window. The green patches are home to turtles!
Maria also spent time working with North Pacific loggerhead turtles while completing her undergraduate degree at Duke University. She worked with ProCaguama, a group that partners with fishermen to eliminate loggerhead sea turtle bycatch in Baja California Sur, Mexico. She continued studying sea turtle conservation as an intern at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Washington.
Maria is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She is currently starting her dissertation work, hoping to improve population estimates of endangered sea turtle species and studying the migrations of green turtles in El Ñuro, Peru.