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Monitoring the Movements of Head-Started Hawksbill Turtles Using Satellite Telemetry

(Scientists: Liew Hock Chark and Juanita Joseph)

Sea turtles produce thousands of eggs in their lifetime hatching into thousands of new recruits in the form of hatchings returning to the sea. However, the survival of these hatchings are very low where estimates of one in a thousand would survive to maturity. A common response to this is to raise these hatchings to a bigger size where they could survive the perils in the sea much better before release, generally termed as “head-starting”. However, there are concerns that head-started turtles might not survive too as they are used to being fed while in captivity and not able to hunt for food when released into the wild. Their imprinting mechanisms might also be disrupted causing them to lose their orientation. There is also the question of whether head-started turtles would circumvent their pelagic phase as hatchings and settle into their foraging grounds as juveniles.

This research is conducted collaboratively between SEATRU of UMT and Aquaria, KLCC. UMT will supply hatchings of green and hawksbill turtles from Chagar Hutang, whereas Aquaria KLCC will raised these hatchings until they reached a suitable size for deployment of the satellite transmitter (PTT). As this is a pioneer headstart study and the effectiveness is not known yet, only a few hatchings were raised for this experiment.

Hatching of green and hawksbill turtles are successfully raised at Aquaria, KLCC since 2007. In 2008, six of the two-year old green turtles were released back to Pulau Redang under the program “Turtle Can Fly”. This year, four of the three-year old sea turtles (1 green and 3 hawkbill turtles) will be released back to Pulau Redang in May or July 2010. Out of these, two of the juvenile hawksbill turtles will be deployed with satellite transmitter (Grants from the Body Shop Foundation and UMT’s Turtle Fund). It is hoped that a vital information will be gathered from this study such as to map out the specific routes taken by the juvenile turtles, determine their swimming and diving behavior upon release and to determine if the head-started hawksbill turtles could survive and find food after their release into the wild.

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