May 28, 2015—Scientists from Florida Atlantic University, the Department of Parks and Wildlife and James Cook University in Australia, have partnered on an international project to track for the first time the whereabouts of neonate flatback sea turtles to identify important developmental habitat for these animals and determine what factors might influence their habitat preferences. Flatback sea turtles only nest in Australia and are predominantly found in Australian waters. Very little is known about where they go once they enter the sea as hatchlings to when they appear as large juveniles or adults in nearshore waters.
“This is a particularly important project that will help us to account for the ‘lost years’ of these unique marine turtles,” said Jeanette Wyneken, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University and lead scientist on the project together with Michael Salmon, Ph.D., also a professor of biological sciences at FAU. “Some evidence shows that flatback turtles don’t follow the same ‘rules’ as other sea turtle hatchlings. Typically, neonate turtles spend their early years in the open ocean, but flatbacks are thought to remain on the continental shelf during their early and adult years.”
Hatchlings were collected in January from Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park in Western Australia and were transported to Perth where they were raised at the Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA). Another 30 hatchlings were collected at Blacks Beach in Queensland and raised at James Cook University. Now, weighing in at more than 300 grams – or a little more than one-half pound – these turtles are big enough to carry a small solar powered satellite transmitter, which is the smallest technology currently available for tracking marine turtles.
On May 26, all of the AQWA turtles were released four kilometers offshore from Eight Mile Beach, and eight of them had the satellite transmitters attached to their shells. The day before their release, the turtles were weighed and measured, loaded onto a Quantas flight for pick up at Broome Airport and then transported to Eighty Mile Beach. Some of the turtles will be available for viewing at www.seaturtle.org/tracking. The Queensland turtles were released on May 22 in coastal waters near their natal beach.
Project partners include Florida Atlantic University; Scott Whiting, Ph.D. and Tony Tucker, Ph.D. from the Department of Parks and Wildlife – Western Australia; Mark Hamann, Ph.D. from James Cook University; and AQWA.
– FAU –
About Florida Atlantic University:
Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.