Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting to know our Turtles

The 2008 turtle nesting season is just about over for Antigua’s turtles, although there are still nests hatching almost every week. With only one year of nesting data behind us, we were not sure what we would find this year, but thankfully the turtles have been coming back in their numbers. Final figures are not in yet, but we can estimate that we have seen a similar level of nesting as in 2007, when we had 173 total nesting crawls. Leatherbacks accounted for 35 of last year’s nests while Hawksbills were responsible for the rest.
This year we had a similar pattern, with the addition of several Green turtle nests. Though Green turtles are common in Barbuda, this was the first time any of our patrollers had observed Greens nesting in Antigua. Greens, like the one shown here can be extremely large and they make elaborate nests, adding alot of excitement to the regular patrols. One of the new elements of the turtle project this year was the use of flipper tags as a means of identifying individual turtles. Tagging provides important information on population trends, movement, and reproductive patterns of the turtles. Once applied the tags typically last for many years, so returning turtles or turtles found in other waters can be quickly identified. Our project uses flipper tags, which consist of a small metal clamp (similar to a livestock tag) with a unique code imprinted on them. The tag is attached to the front flipper using a special applicator and that individual turtle can then be identified by anyone that encounters it by the unique tag code. Although the tags are applied very quickly and cause little pain, it can still be somewhat disconcerting at first (for both the turtle and the tagger!). However the value of getting to know our individual turtle mothers is undoubtedly worth the inconvenience. Most of the turtle projects in the Caribbean use tags provided by the Marine Turtle Tagging Centre in Barbados, so that any turtle tagged in the region can be traced back to a central database.

No comments: