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Tagged turtles in the eye of the storm?


A NERC-funded researcher is tracking a number of migrating marine turtles which could be sent off-course or washed ashore by Hurricane Isabel. Updates on the turtles’ progress can be followed on the web.

Dr Brendan Godley and colleagues from the University of Exeter are using satellite technology to track the endangered green and loggerhead turtles as they leave their nesting beaches in North Carolina and the Cayman Islands and start the long journey to their winter foraging grounds. They attach satellite transmitters to the turtles’ shells and each time a turtle surfaces to breathe, the transmitter sends signals to satellites which calculate its position. The transmitter can also provide information on the depth and duration of dives, giving an insight into where and how turtles forage for food.

Says Dr Godley, “We started tracking the turtles to find out where they live when they are not breeding. Locating the foraging sites of marine turtle populations is vital if we are to protect them. But now some of them off the coast of the USA are actually experiencing Hurricane Isabel and it’s possible they could be forced out to sea or even washed ashore.”

By tracking the turtles, Dr Godley expects to discover whether the female turtles, once they have laid their eggs, choose migration routes to minimise either the distance travelled or the time spent away from food. The information coming back from the sensors should also indicate the influence of ocean currents on the turtles’ behaviour and if the turtles move to warmer waters to find food in winter or simply enter a state of semi-hibernation.

Dr Godley has collaborated with colleagues at, a web-based organisation in the USA, to set up a website enabling people to follow the progress of the turtles.

Each of the tagged turtles has been named so anyone logging on to the website at can see where their favourite turtle has been and what it has been doing. The site has so far proved very popular with schoolchildren in the Cayman Islands who are following turtles they have called Myles, Shelby and Samia.

Marion O’Sullivan | NERC
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