SARASOTA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Sea turtles are having an impressive year in the bay area. Experts say their population is booming and the number of loggerhead turtle nests is off the charts.
Now, a turtle rarely seen in the area is becoming a frequent sight: green turtles.
They are normally found on the east coast but over the last few years, scientists in Sarasota say their numbers continue to rise.
Mote Marine Laboratory is tracking them in hopes of learning what brought them to the gulf.
“My tag team goes out each night and they’re encountering turtles all along,” said Mote’s senior turtle biologist, Kristen Mazzarella.
Mote Marine’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program keeps an eye out for green turtles on the west coast. It’s not unheard of for them to appear, but this year is different.
“Two years ago, we had 79 green turtle nests. This year we have 135 green turtle nests. Back in ’08, we would be lucky if we saw six green turtle nests on our beaches,” Mazzarella said.
Her team has placed satellite tags on seven green turtles to find out where they live and, when they’re not nesting, how they get there.
Green turtles are a threatened species. Mazzarella says tracking them can help determine where they feed so those areas can be protected.
“That can tell us a little bit about the dangers they might encounter on their way to their foraging ground and when they get to their foraging grounds,” she explained.
Modern technology has turned this kind of research into a real-time learning experience. Turtle tracking devices send data directly to a website where anyone can watch them move around the ocean.
A turtle named GIGI was tagged on Casey Key last year. She went from Florida to the western coast of Cuba, and then onto the Yucatan Peninsula.
Scientists and turtle enthusiasts alike are eager to find out where else GIGI’s journey will take her.
“We are really excited and can’t wait to see what she will show us,” Mazzarella said.
The signal from the satellite tags is only picked up in short windows when certain satellites are overhead and the sea turtle comes up for a breath at the surface.
Most tags are able to track turtles for at least a year.
To follow along, visit https://mote.org/sea-turtle-tracking
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