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The Lost Years

This blog follows on from ‘The long walk to sea’ which followed a turtle’s journey from egg to sea. This time we explore where sea turtles go after they reach the sea as a hatchling and what they do before reaching adulthood. It looks at the research and conservation methods being used to discover the life of a juvenile turtle and how we can use this knowledge to effectively protect them.

For a long time, little was known about the life of turtles between leaving the beach as a hatchling and returning to that beach to lay their own eggs. Today, scientists use satellite tagging, ocean currents and boat observations to piece together the lost years.

One conservation method that has successfully achieved this is in Costa Rica. A small metal tag was attached to female turtles nesting on beaches. Each tag has a code and a message. When the tags inevitably fall off; people that find the tags are given a small reward for returning the tag to an address. From this, researchers have learnt that a large portion of those turtles go to Nicaragua and now efforts are focused on discouraging people from killing turtles for meat in that area.

Furthermore, different migration paths may affect their growth and population dynamics. Turtles in warmer waters may grow quicker and mature faster than those that hang around in colder waters. A few years later the juvenile turtles spend time feeding and growing in nearshore waters and, once they reach sexual maturity, they migrate to a new feeding ground away from their nesting beach.

Currently, scientists use satellite tags and computer mapping programs to monitor where they go when they migrate, what routes they take, and how fast they swim. We can learn where their major feeding grounds are and what major threats they face. This allows conservationists to prioritise and focus efforts on these major threats.

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