Sea turtles spend most of their time in the ocean, only coming to shore to nest. Their migration patterns, including how they navigate to feeding grounds, remain unknown in many cases. Satellite telemetry is one way of filling that knowledge gap, allowing researchers to track marine turtles as they swim from place to place.
A transmitter is attached to the turtle's shell with dental putty (the stuff used to make dental impressions) as a base and encased using epoxy adhesive. These satellite tags do not harm the turtles in any way and are designed to eventually fall off. Once attached, the tag transmits signals to an orbiting satellite each time the turtle surfaces for air. The satellite sends the data on to a receiving station on land that researchers can access on their computers.
Hawksbill turtle tracking projects off the coast of Malaysia in the Coral Triangle have gathered crucial information for identifying and reducing threats to their feeding areas and migration paths. Similar studies are being done on endangered green and hawksbill turtles in the Eastern Pacific.
The data will tell us where important feeding areas are and where turtles come in contact with fisheries. This helps WWF make recommendations to protect turtles from such interactions. The process of catching and tagging the turtles has also become an important education and awareness tool, inspiring conservation among fishermen.
WWF places satellite tags on marine turtles in many areas around the world. The information collected from the tags helps us to design better management strategies for their conservation, such as creating marine protected areas for important feeding areas or addressing threats to nesting beaches.