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Scientists studying migration patterns of sea turtles in Sabah

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Scientists studying migration patterns of sea turtles in Sabah

Post Number:#1  Postby timyang » Wed Mar 02, 2011 7:36 pm

KOTA KINABALU: The Marine Research Foundation (MRF) has deployed satellite transmitters on five juvenile turtles from Mantanani Island near here to identify the critical migration routes and near-shore habitats favoured by the turtles.

The study will eventually drive management and conservation activities for the turtles.

This work is funded in part by the Shell Malaysia Sustainable Development Grants programme, the Forestry Bureau of Taiwan, and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, said Dr Nicolas Pilcher, executive director of MRF, a non-profit conservation agency based in Sabah.

“Marine turtles in SE Asia are threatened through habitat loss and indirect capture in fisheries, and are in dire need of conservation action. With long maturation periods and low survival, they have extremely slow replenishment rates, and a population which has been depleted can take several centuries to recover.

“Understanding the needs of the turtles depends heavily on an understanding of the extent of habitat use and distribution, which can only be determined through complex research projects involving at-sea population dynamics, genetics, and satellite tracking,” he said.

By tracking marine turtles through the SE Asian region, MRF aims to raise the collective awareness of their plight and to provide the concrete linkages at an international level on which Malaysia may develop conservation agendas linked with other neighbouring countries to which turtles migrate, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Juvenile green turtles were captured during two recent research trips to Mantanani, and Sirtrack PT102 Satellite transmitters were affixed using a silicone base secured with fibreglass matting and resin following capture, measurements, laparoscopic examination and genetic sampling.

“The measurements allow us to determine growth rates, while the laparoscopic examination allows us to determine whether the turtle is male or female, along with reproductive development stage. The genetic sampling allows us to identify which nesting grounds these turtles came from in the first place,” said Dr Pilcher.

The transmitters will send signals to an orbiting satellite each time the turtle surfaces for air, and the satellite will re-transmit the data to a receiving station on earth, which can then be accessed through computer and modem.

Dr Pilcher also noted that “turtles rarely remain on the surface for very long, so their surfacing must coincide with the satellite passing overhead, and because of this it is uncommon to receive a location from a turtle every day.”

The tracking data will be uploaded to a database daily and tracking software will output graphic positioning data for management and education activities. (Check out the daily progress at

Recent findings as part of MRF’s work determined Mantanani was home to sizeable and immensely important foraging population of green turtles.

“Through genetics we know that many of these originate from the Turtle Islands complex in the Sulu Sea, but they also share genetic stock origins with turtles from Vietnam and Taiwan,” said Dr Pilcher.

These foraging turtles only spend 6-7 years of their lives at Mantanani, and it is unknown where they spend the rest of their developmental years.

“It is critical that we know this so that we can develop networks of protected areas which are based on the true biology of the species.

“Without a clear understanding of the migration paths taken by sea turtles, and the habitats they require, conservation efforts will not be able to protect needed developmental and foraging habitats. More importantly however, is the need to determine if the current protected area schemes in place in varying SE Asian countries are sufficient to protect all life stages of marine turtles.

“Understanding the migration routes taken by juvenile turtles can enable the authorities to establish protected areas, and develop fishing and shipping zones to increase turtles’ overall chances of survival,” he added.

For further information contact Dr Pilcher on
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