PIFSC Scientists Expanding Knowledge of Marine Turtles in South Pacific

Biologists Kyle Van Houtan and T. Todd Jones with an adult green turtle in the Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Biologists Kyle Van Houtan and T. Todd Jones with an adult green turtle in the Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

PIFSC biologists Kyle Van Houtan and T. Todd Jones traveled to Rose Island National Wildlife Refuge in American Samoa to study marine turtles there. Van Houtan and Jones observed juvenile green and hawksbill turtles in the refuge. They counted more than 1200 nest pits on the two small, emergent islands at Rose Atoll, Rose Island and Sand Island. Considering various factors, they estimate that 30-40 females annually nested at Rose Atoll over the last 5 years. Some of the turtles have been tagged, allowing scientists to track their movements. Of 2 adult female green turtles nesting at Rose Island, one has remained at Rose Island, while the other migrated to its foraging grounds in Western Samoa.

Elsewhere in the South Pacific, wildlife scientist George Balazs of the PIFSC Marine Turtle Research Program (MTRP) continued studies of juvenile loggerhead turtles. In September 2012, he accompanied colleague Richard Farman, Director of Aquarium des Lagons in Noumea, New Caledonia, on an expedition to release 46 satellite-tagged juvenile loggerheads into high seas waters 195 miles off New Caledonia. The turtles, of South Pacific stock genetic origin, were transported from their rearing pens in New Caledonia to their open ocean release locations by the 200-meter Container Vessel, Matisse. Balazs and Farman accompanied the turtles at the invitation of the CMA CGM shipping company. The pelagic ocean deployment of these 46 captive-reared juvenile loggerheads represented the culmination of 3 years of international partnership. The planning and execution of the work involved scientists from MTRP, PIFSC Ecosystems and Oceanography Division, Aquarium des Lagons, Hawaii Preparatory Academy, and the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office's International Fisheries Division.

Through January 2013, 120 days after deployment, satellite transmitters on 44 of the 46 turtles had continued to transmit location data. The voluminous data, captured by the Argos worldwide satellite tracking system, are downloaded and managed by MTRP scientist Denise Parker, an employee of the University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research. She produces maps of the turtles' pathways for sharing with all the Center's research partners. The mapping updates can be viewed on the website of Aquarium des Lagoon at: http://www.aquarium.nc/fr/preparez-visite/actualites/192-cartes-tortues-n-1