On June 30th, 2015, the Marine Turtle Research Group of Exeter University in conjunction with several other partners and sponsors, launched a new green sea turtle satellite tracking project in the northern part of Cyprus. MEDASSET supported the project via online promotion of turtle adoptions and by sharing project news.
Why so special?
Since 1998, the Marine Turtle Conservation Project (MTCP) has tracked a total of 22 green turtles in the Mediterranean, effectively discovering important foraging areas in the region. They do this by taking a tissue sample from each tracked animal and recording the stable isotope ratios present. Iso…what? Stable isotope ratios are stored in body cells and come from the organic matter that animals ingest. Because of geographically unique properties and peculiarities of each region, each ratio is indicative of a particular foraging area. Using the information collected from previous turtle tracking projects, MTCP had successfully labelled each foraging area with its particular isotopic ratio. But then, scientists identified a new isotopic ratio that did not match any of the previously collected data in a significant number of turtles. This meant there must be a foraging area somewhere that had, purely by chance, so far gone unrecognized. Its location was a mystery.
The chosen ones…
Through a sophisticated scientific method, MTCP experts managed to identify a particular population of nesting green females they regarded as likely to be venturing into this unknown foraging site. Of the potential batch of females from Alagadi (Alakati) beach, they chose Frankie, Toby, Samannie, Waddy and Sim as the five candidates most likely to help us find out where these foraging waters lie, and fitted them with transmitters that would allow the team to follow their migration routes by satellite. By tracking these five females, we hoped to learn which additional areas we need to conserve so that green turtles can be protected throughout every phase of their life cycle.
The mystery unravels!
Filled with hope and excitement we followed the 5 turtles closely, wondering if they would reveal their secret. And so they did! All 5 migrated through the Levantine sea, south of Cyprus, passed the waters of Lebanon, Israel and Gaza, and arrived at (drumroll)… Bardawil lagoon, N. Sinai, Egypt! If that name rings a bell it is because in 2012 MEDASSET and our Egyptian colleagues surveyed Bardawil lagoon following reports of numerous dead turtles there. Our survey had also indicated that Bardawil might perhaps be a feeding, development or overwintering habitat for sea turtles.
These preliminary results prove the direct link between Alagadi nesting beach in Cyprus and Bardawil lagoon in Egypt, and amplify the importance of this Egyptian Ramsar site for green turtles in the Mediterranean. “Science can help put the pieces of the puzzle together” says Phil Bradshaw, who manages this research project for the Marine Turtle Research Group. The tracked turtles remained in Bardawil at least until November 2015, when their devices stopped transmitting. This probably means that the devices failed, perhaps because of the very high salinity of the lagoon’s waters. Hoping for more information, we got in touch with Mr B. Rabia, the manager of the Zaranik Protected Area (the eastern part of the lagoon) and asked him to help investigate. The good news is that local fishermen reported that they had not caught any turtles fitted with transmitters, which means the chances are they are still out there!
This project would not have been possible without SEATURTLE.ORG and its STAT tool.
View the turtles’ migration at www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?project_id=1107
Read the BBC Wildlife Magazine article published in December 2016 about this exciting project, at www.discoverwildlife.com/news/turtles-cyprus-end-egypt