UNC CSI Releases Turtles In Gulf Stream As Part Of Tracking Initiative

Posted By on June 2, 2017

Researchers at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released juvenile and adult sea turtles into the Gulf Stream in partnership with the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island and the University of Central Florida (UCF). The project, led by Drs. Lindsay Dubbs (UNC CSI) and Larisa Avens (NOAA), is part of the ongoing NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program at UNC CSI looking at the ecological impacts of Gulf Stream utilization.

A total of nine turtles were released into the Gulf Stream on May 17, five of which were loggerhead yearlings with satellite transmitters attached to their backs. The transmitters are small, lightweight devices attached to the turtle’s carapace (shell) using aquarium-grade epoxy resin and are designed to withstand up to 300 days at sea. The transmitters rely on solar power to charge the unit and satellite telemetry to pinpoint their location every time a turtle returns to the surface for air. Real-time tracking of the animals is available at http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/?project_id=1272&dyn=1496277012 for educators and those interested in the research. 

 All nine of the turtles released were raised or rehabilitated at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The Aquarium aids sea turtles brought to them by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission whose volunteers monitor sea turtle nests and bring in turtles that need assistance, whether they are from an excavation or a stranding. The five yearling research subjects hatched on Bogue Banks just last fall near the Aquarium.

The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island was utilized for the staging area for attaching the transmitters and to prep for the release.

Kate Mansfield, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at UCF, has been developing this method of neonatal turtle tagging for over ten years.  Much of what is known about sea turtles is based on mature individuals, leaving a gap of information concerning early development. This research aims to fill that gap by revealing where these endangered species go and how they interact with the Gulf Stream. 

Teaming up with interdisciplinary researchers like Mansfield is just one of the ways Dr. Lindsay Dubbs is assessing the potential for ecological impacts of Gulf Stream turbines as part of the UNC CSI Renewable Ocean Energy Program. The primary focus of Dubb’s research has been on Sargassum, a floating macro-algae found in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which attracts a wide array of marine species including sea turtles. Researchers believe neonatal and juvenile sea turtles rely on Sargassum communities as a refuge from predators and a place to find food. 

“Collaboration with NOAA researchers, Larisa Avens, Joanne McNeil, and April Goodman Hall, has allowed us to explore the use of the Gulf Stream by sea turtles as a component of our ecological and environmental characterization. Their expertise and experience are huge assets to the project, as are their contacts. For instance, we were very fortunate to have Kate Mansfield join us to tag these sea turtles. We are hoping to be able to track at least some of the released turtles for a few months and continue to collaborate with researchers at NOAA, UCF, and the NC Aquariums, linking sea turtles with other elements of the Gulf Stream being researched thanks to the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program.”, said Dr. Lindsay Dubbs, Principal Investigator on the project.

In addition to the sea turtle release, UNC CSI technicians took surface water and Sargassum samples from different locations within the Gulf Stream which will undergo analysis back at the Institute as researchers strive to better understand this unique pelagic habitat.

A tagged juvenile loggerhead sea turtle swims freely among the sargassum. (photo: John McCord, UNC Coastal Studies Institute)

A tagged juvenile loggerhead sea turtle swims freely among the sargassum. (photo: John McCord, UNC Coastal Studies Institute)

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Posted by Matt Artz

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