From One Danger to the Next
By Richard Hamilton, Melanesia Program Director
June 6, 2016 – Our satellite trackers show that three of the eight turtles we are tracking have safely migrated back to foraging grounds on the northern Great Barrier Reef. This is an amazing journey — one of the turtles swam an impressive 1,250 miles in just five weeks!
Unfortunately, these turtles are returning to a very different home than the one they left four months ago when they migrated to the Solomon Islands to lay their eggs. While they were away, the Great Barrier Reef was severely impacted by climate-related coral bleaching, with more than 50% coral reef mortality in some areas.
This is bad news for the hawksbills, who rely on coral reefs for food. The main staple of their diet is sea sponges that grow on coral reefs — although some females will munch on corals as well (scientists believe they may do this because they need minerals from the coral to grow their eggs).
The good news is that, for the first time, we have a clear picture of these turtles’ migration routes and we can take steps to protect them — both in their nesting grounds in the Solomon Islands and their foraging grounds in Australia.
Just as we hoped, the information from the satellite trackers is filling in another piece of the puzzle, allowing the Conservancy to work with our partners to safeguard turtle habitats across national boundaries.
Turtle Travels: Where Do Turtles Go on Their Vacations?
By Richard Hamilton, Melanesia Program Director
June 4, 2016 – The preliminary results are in! Six weeks after Conservancy staff placed satellite tags on turtles nesting at the Arnavon Community Conservation Area, we’re able to draw some early conclusions about their movements and what these results mean for conservation.
- The turtles spent most of their time within the conservation area while they were nesting. This is good for the turtles’ safety, as long as we can keep poachers out. Interestingly, the results also showed that turtles are not totally loyal to one beach, jumping between two islands in the protected area to nest.
- Even though they all nested in the same area, the turtles traveled to different places afterwards. Six of the eight tagged turtles (sadly, two of the original ten tagged were poached) have completed nesting and are migrating back to their foraging grounds. Three turtles are currently headed to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, while two others took much shorter journeys — one traveled to nearby Papua New Guinea, while the other has remained in the Solomon Islands.
This is far more information than we have ever had before on specific turtle migration routes. Now we can work with partners in these countries to protect the turtles during their journeys and at both ends of their routes. With two turtles still nesting, we're interested to find out how adventurous the final pair will turn out to be.
Meet the Turtles: Galo Zulo
June 1, 2016 – Galo Zulo was tagged on April 17, 2016 after laying her eggs at Sikopo beach in the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area. With a carapace length of only 78.5 centimeters, she is a fairly small — which may mean that she is a younger turtle.
Galo Zulo nested another three times in the Arnavons in April and May, then departed her nesting grounds on June 3. She is currently migrating back to her foraging grounds and is off the coast of New Georgia in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.
Galo Zulo’s name was chosen by a Solomon Islands primary (middle school) school student named Galo Tekaiti, who won the chance to name a turtle by taking first prize in school competition sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. His winning drawing of a hawksbill turtle impressed the judges with its attention to detail and sense of motion.
Meet the Turtles: Alokatoe
May 28, 2016 – Alokatoe was tagged on April 17, 2016. She is a medium-sized turtle, with a carapace length of 86.5 centimeters. She left the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area nesting grounds on the May 11 and is now at the eastern end of Isabel Province. Alokatoe has spent the last two weeks in the same area of Isabel feeding, and we think that she might stay in the Solomon Islands.
Alokatoe was named by Reynard Sivoro, a secondary (elementary) school student who won first prize in a contest sponsored by The Nature Conservancy for his personal and moving story, “Turtle Drops.” The name Alokatoe means to “pass through” or “pass by” in Reynard’s language, and he hopes that Alokatoe will pass through freely wherever she swims, remaining safe from threat and harm. He also hopes that Alokatoe will shed light on the plight of turtles and make people in his community — and throughout the Solomon Islands — think twice before killing turtles.
Turtle Update: Sad News
May 27, 2016 – We’re sad to report that two of 10 turtles in our satellite tagging study were killed by poachers shortly after their tags were installed. This is an unfortunate reminder of the dangers that sea turtles face every day. The Nature Conservancy is using this incident to continue discussions with local communities about turtle conservation and the value of protecting turtles. We’re also ramping up our efforts to support more ranger patrols so that we can protect nesting sea turtles.
Meet the Turtles: Dora
May 25, 2016 — Dora is a small-to-medium-sized turtle, which may mean that she is younger than some of the other turtles in our study. Conservancy scientists placed a satellite tag on her shell on April 14 and released her after the adhesive was dry.
Information from Dora’s satellite tag shows us that she came ashore to nest on April 17, then spent a few more days in the Arnavon Community Marine Protected Area (ACMCA) before departing on April 22. Because hawksbill turtles lay 3-5 clutches of eggs two weeks apart, we know that when we located Dora she must have been at the end of her nesting season.
For the next three weeks Dora swam 25-30 miles per day, travelling 600 miles in total to arrive at the outer islands of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, on May 12. For the past week she has not been migrating, so our scientists believe that Milne Bay is her foraging grounds. If so, Dora will remain feeding there for the next five to seven years before she makes another migration back to the Arnavons to nest. The information that we receive from Dora’s tag in the coming months will be very valuable for gaining a better understanding of the foraging grounds of the hawksbill turtles that nest at the Arnavons.
Meet the Turtles: Mama Kawaki
May 22, 2016 — Mama Kawaki is the biggest turtle ever recorded in 20 years of conservation at the Arnavon Community Marine Protected Area (ACMCA). Her shell is an amazing 95.5 centimeters long — far larger than a typical turtle, which normally ranges in size from 80 to 90 centimeters!
Mama Kawaki has a special connection to the communities around the ACMCA. She was named in honor of a newly formed women’s group that is getting women more involved in conservation and community education at the ACMCA and in the three villages that surround it. The KAWAKI women’s group met Mama Kawaki while she was being tagged and told us that they feel inspired to have a turtle named after them — and that having their group’s name associated with such a big turtle is a sign that they’ll accomplish big things.