Sumitha will help to unlock secrets about turtle behaviour, marine ecology

Sea turtle conservation along the Tamil Nadu coast received a fillip with the first-ever satellite telemetry tagging of an adult female Olive Ridley here early on Sunday morning.

The procedure conducted by volunteers of Sea Turtle Protection Force (STPF) lasted close to five hours. It involved cleaning the carapace (outer shell) using acetone, cementing a GPS transmitter onto the turtle's back and colouring the module so that it can be recognised by scientists all across the world.

It started around 12.30 a.m. when a healthy turtle retrieved earlier in the day was brought to the beach and deposited in a cardboard box. She was held in place by a set of volunteers; a few kept a wet cloth over her head to keep her calm and in pitch darkness and complete silence a few flashlights guided the long process carried out by Supraja Dharini, founder, STPF.

The special adhesive dried by 3.00 a.m. after which an internationally recognisable paint coating was given. It was a long, sleepless wait after that until 5.15 a.m. when the turtle was released and made her slow movement towards the vast oceans.

The turtle, named Sumitha, will represent the collective future of many like her as the data she will help generate might unlock many secrets about marine turtle behaviour and ecology, said Dr. Dharini.

As sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles, they come up to the ocean's surface every 40 minutes. The antenna on the satellite tag will transmit signals during this time and by mapping these points, her path of migration can be determined. The tagging will help in studying the turtle's migratory route and areas of foraging.

Tracking

Sumitha can be tracked at http://www.seaturtle.org/ tracking/?project_id=477.

The results of the study will be used by the Department of Fisheries and the Wildlife Wing of the Forest Department to bring down the number of turtles getting caught in gill nets. Directions will be given to mechanised trawlers to stay off areas which are feeding grounds and congregation areas of turtles at least during the three months of the nesting season.

Pointing out that scientific data can provide solid bedrock for conservation efforts, Arun Krishnamurthy, an STPF volunteer, said: “Turtles are indicator species. They represent the connection between land and ocean every time they come ashore to nest. Seeing them come every year means the ocean still has the resources for marine organisms to thrive.”

The team will geo-tag another female turtle in the early hours of March 14.

RELATED NEWS

Tagged turtle covers 40 km in three daysMarch 11, 2010