Sea Turtles Find Shelter in U.S. Park

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The Dry Tortugas National Park seem to provide green sea turtles with everything they need, which is fitting since “tortuga” means turtle in Spanish. A recent tracking study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that the turtles (Chelonia mydas) were nesting on the beaches of the Dry Tortugas islands, then grazing in the seagrass beds and reefs of the surrounding waters, which lie nearly 70 miles west of Key West, Florida.

Only one previous study of green sea turtles’ habitats found the animals taking up residence in feeding grounds so close to their nesting areas. Most of the turtles make longer migrations.

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“We were thrilled to find that these turtles used some areas already under ‘protected’ status,” said lead author Kristen Hart, ecologist with the USGS, in a press release.  “The ultimate goal is to help managers understand where these endangered turtles are spending their time both during the breeding period and then when they are at feeding areas. Given that worldwide declines in sea grasses, one of the most important habitats they rely on for food, has already been documented, this type of data is critical for managers.”

To make their observations, the USGS researchers first mapped the seafloor using 195,000 images taken by an underwater camera system. Turtles were then fitted with GPS transmitters that allowed the researchers to track their movements.

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The turtles spent most of their time in the sea grass and degraded coral reefs of the Dry Tortugas National Park and nearby areas of the Florida Keys Marine National Sanctuary.

Green sea turtles are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

IMAGE: A green sea turtle (Alexander Vasenin, Wikimedia Commons)

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