Movements of South Pacific Loggerhead Turtles Tracked by Satellite

Juvenile loggerhead turtle outfitted with a miniature transmitter is released into open ocean habitat in the South Pacific. Information on the turtle's location will be transmitted via satellite to shore-based computers, enabling scientists to track the turtle's movements.

In the North Pacific Ocean, migrations of loggerhead turtles have been tracked extensively in recent years using satellite transmitters placed on the turtles by a multi-national group of scientists and government observers deployed on longline vessels. The information on movements has been crucial to understanding the pelagic ecology of the threatened sea turtles and developing effective management measures to reduce incidental mortality in high-seas fisheries.

Now, similar progress is being made in the South Pacific. On September 9, 2008, PIFSC biologist George Balazs and colleague Richard Farman of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in Noumea, New Caledonia released 42 juvenile loggerhead turtles with miniature transmitters into pelagic habitat of the South Pacific. Working aboard the French Marine Nationale vessel La Glorieuse during its transit from New Caledonia to New Zealand, the scientists released the turtles into transition zone waters of 18° C at latitude 30° S and longitude 171° E.

South Pacific loggerheads are genetically distinct from loggerheads in the North Pacific and are known to range across the ocean from Australia to the coast of Chile. They have been reported as bycatch in several South Pacific fisheries.

Location data transmitted from the turtles to the Argos Satellite Tracking System are being processed by Denise Parker of the NOAA-University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research from her NOAA office in Oregon. Tracking of the 42 South Pacific loggerheads and related research are anticipated to continue over many months.

The landmark research follows three years of planning and preparation. Collaborators included PIFSC staff in the Marine Turtle Research Program and Ecosystems and Oceanography Division, colleagues in the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office, and researchers and government officials in New Caledonia.

For more information contact: George Balazs