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By Scott Neil
Published Oct 25, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 24, 2012 at 10:44 pm)
A view of intrepid turtle ‘Tucker’ and the GPS tag on its shell. ‘Tucker’ has swum away
from Bermuda, covering 437 miles on a course towards Florida.
Swimming around Bermuda wasn’t enough for one of the five tagged turtles in the ‘Tour De Turtles’ research programme — instead it has embarked on an epic swim to Florida.
Intrepid turtle ‘Tucker’ has so far swum almost 400 miles further than any of the other turtles, covering an incredible 437 miles, and is currently nearing the US continental shelf.
A GPS tag fitted to the turtle’s shell is being monitored from orbiting satellites and shows ‘Tucker’ making a beeline for Florida, an important breeding ground for green turtles.
By contrast the four other green turtles in the research initiative appear content to swim around the reef shallows surrounding Bermuda.
Turtle ‘Catherine’ has swum the second furthest, managing 45 miles mostly in the waters around St Catherine’s Fort, off St George’s, since the ‘Tour De Turtles’ began 72 days ago.
Researchers are collecting data on the turtles’ behaviour, such as how much time they spend in seagrass meadows, how much time in reefs and other habitats and whether or not they have a ‘home’ location.
After being tagged in August the turtles were released in different areas of the Island as part of the Bermuda Turtle Project. ‘Tucker’, ‘Catherine’ and ‘Chubby’ were sponsored by the Department of Conservation Services.
The other two turtles, ‘Fripper’ and ‘Archie’, are sponsored by Renaissance Re and the Sea Turtle Conservancy respectively.
During the first two months of the 90-day ‘Tour De Turtles’ project, none of the turtles travelled more than a mile from the place where they had been released.
But that all changed on October 3 when ‘Tucker’ became unusually adventurous and went for a long offshore swim before returning to its home patch near Wreck Hill.
Then, on October 7, ‘Tucker’ headed offshore again and this time kept swimming in a west southwest direction.
More than halfway to Florida, researchers are continuing to monitor ‘Tucker’ and will be able to do so for the next eight months.
Although the tagged turtles all have names, it is not yet known if they are male or female.
This will be known once blood test results are completed. The result of a blood test on ‘Tucker’ is still awaited.
Green turtles come to Bermuda from a number of locations, including Florida, Mexico and Cuba, according to the Bermuda Turtle Project, but it is not known if any of the green turtles off the Island’s shores hatched locally.
“These expat turtles take up residence around Bermuda, feeding on seagrass and possibly other plants and animals such as algae and jellyfish. They are thought to stay here for up to 20 years but leave before they reach sexually maturity,” said Sarah Manuel, marine conservation officer.
“Like other turtles, we think they attempt to return, eventually, to the beaches where they originally hatched to reproduce themselves.”
It is estimated the average size of a green turtle when it leaves Bermuda is 70.6cm in length.
‘Bermuda’s green turtles are clearly part of a multinational turtle community and protecting them contributes to the welfare of turtles in many countries.
“But, the turtles of the other countries must also be protected so that there will be new generations of turtles to come to Bermuda,” said Dr Manuel.
“Like so many of the habitats and animals in the seas around us, turtles and their inhabitants can only be conserved through international cooperation and agreements.”
Regular updates on the locations of the Bermuda turtles fitted with satellite tags can be found on the Tour de Turtles Bermuda website: http://www.tourdeturtles.org/Bermuda/index.php