Program to track 5 turtles' migrations

Internet users will be able to follow the loggerheads' mysterious wanderings

 (The Post and Courier, July 9, 2002)

BY LYNNE LANGLEY
Of The Post and Courier Staff

Five loggerhead sea turtles found a lot more than they expected when they lumbered onto isolated Cape Island to lay their eggs Sunday night.
     After each turtle nested, a team of eight humans checked and measured her, then attached a satellite transmitter.
     The high-tech turtles will reveal where they go after they leave the beach in northern Charleston County, where they travel, how quickly they move and where they feed.
     In the process, biologists hope to learn more about the threatened species, whose nesting numbers are declining here, and about dangers that loggerheads face at sea.
     "The turtles we tagged were all big, healthy, beautiful ladies," said Sally Murphy, a S.C. Natural Resources Department biologist specializing in sea turtles.
     Area residents can watch as Murphy tracks the turtles. In fact, people around the world are expected to follow the turtles' migrations.
     Natural Resources has teamed up with the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corp. on a satellite tracking project so Internet users can observe the mysterious migrations of the five sea turtles. People in more than 22 countries have used the corporation's Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program during its previous six years.
     To get people even more involved, Natural Resources and the South Carolina Aquarium are launching a "Name the Turtles" contest today for the five transmitting turtles. To submit names, go to the aquarium or to the Web site www.scaquarium.org.
     "We hope the names do them justice," Murphy said.
     The deadline for entries is July 29. Winning names will be selected on July 31, and prizes will be awarded. One tip: You won't win if you propose Caroline, Virginia, Jackie, Flag or Flora because other turtles already bear those names.
     The tracked turtles range in size from 36? inches in curved shell length to 43? inches, which Murphy describes as a whopper.
     That largest turtle, officially No. 36426, also crawled ashore to nest on Cape Island two years ago when her flipper was tagged for another study. She measured exactly the same length then, said Murphy.
     A team of eight from Natural Resources and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge measured and_ tagged the five turtles with satellite transmitters Sunday night on Cape Island, just off McClellanville within the refuge.
     In this country, sea turtles nest primarily in Florida, but Cape Island represents the most significant loggerhead nesting beach north of Florida, with an average of 1,000 nests per season.
     Nests of the state reptile have declined significantly in number during the last two decades, Murphy said. It's important to understand the movements of loggerheads and gain insight into any factors that could have a negative impact on the population, she added.
     In 1998, five turtles were tagged with satellite transmitters, which continued to send data for as long as 15 months.
     Murphy termed the results inconclusive because two of the turtles moved north, and three moved south.
     "We hope a larger sample size and longer transmitter life will add to the knowledge we gained from the first study," she said.
     The 1998 study showed that turtles don't migrate right along the coast but rather at least 30 miles from shore. Individual turtles' routes were relatively close to each other, and loggerheads migrated to what are termed resident feeding areas north and south of their nesting beach.
     The turtles tagged here Sunday will go online in August, when maps appear on Caribbean Conservation's Sea Turtle Survival League Web page (www.cccturtle.org). Maps will be updated regularly as the turtles migrate, according to Dan Evans, education coordinator.
     To take part in the free education program or to adopt a satellite-tagged turtle, call the league, a conservation and research group, at (800) 678-7853 or go to the Web page.