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Scientists watch by satellite as Turks and Caicos turtle visits USVI
Published on October 7, 2010 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Joy Blackburn
The Virgin Islands Daily News

ST CROIX, USVI (MCT) -- After taking care of business in the Turks and Caicos Islands last month, Shyvonne made a beeline for St Croix, where she has been lingering in the waters since she arrived late last week.

Shyvonne -- a huge green sea turtle named after the ex-wife of a Grand Turk fisherman -- was tagged as part of the Turks and Caicos Islands Turtle Project after she emerged from the surf at Gibbs Cay in that island chain on Sept. 12, according to a prepared statement about the project.

Her "tag" sends a signal that is picked up by a satellite whenever she surfaces to breath.

In the weeks since she was tagged, Shyvonne has traveled more than 600 miles, nesting on Gibbs Cay again -- likely her fourth nest of the season -- before swimming south and east toward Puerto Rico, skirting along the edges of that island and then coming down to St Croix.

Shyvonne, whose shell measures more than 44 inches, is the first green turtle nesting in the Turks and Caicos to be tracked by satellite.

Those conducting the study hope she will provide vital information about where the dwindling population of green sea turtles that nest in the Turks and Caicos go once they leave the island chain.

St Croix may well be her home -- or she may simply be foraging here before moving on.

Only time will tell.

Anyone can monitor Shyvonne's movements on the internet at www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?project—id=398.

Shyvonne spent the weekend foraging just off Campo Rico on St Croix's West End.

The Marine Conservation Society, a United Kingdom charity, is the lead agency in the project and is working in collaboration with the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources and the School for Field Studies in the Turks and Caicos and the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, according to a prepared statement about the project.

The data collected "is telling us where the last remaining green turtles that nest in the Turks and Caicos Islands live and which other countries we should be working with to protect these animals," Peter Richardson, Turks and Caicos Islands Turtle Project manager, said in an e-mail.

The satellite tracking has helped the project get local fishers involved in the Turks and Caicos, Richardson said, noting that the story of Suzie, another green turtle that was satellite-tagged last year as part of the project, captured the attention of fishers after she made a journey of more than 3,700 miles around the Caribbean, likely nesting in Barbuda before returning to the Turks and Caicos to forage in January this year.

Suzie's story, Richardson said, "changed the way fishers saw their turtle resource. They had no idea that these turtles could make such long-distance migrations, and she generated a lot of respect for the adult turtles that are found in the Turks and Caicos Island waters."

The turtle project also is posting updated maps of Shyvonne's migration for fishers in Grand Turk and South Caicos to keep track of her.

"The fishers are watching with great interest," he said, noting that they are "keen" to get involved in helping decide how the islands' fishery should be managed in the future.

In the US Virgin Islands, sea turtles and their nests are protected by law, and poaching them or harvesting their eggs is prohibited, said Renata Platenberg, the endangered species coordinator for the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the VI Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

The laws in the Turks and Caicos Islands are not so protective and over the years, the hunting of female turtles on nesting beaches and the collection of eggs has caused the population of female turtles that nest there to dwindle.

"Turtle nests and nesting female turtles are now protected under TCI law, so tagging Shyvonne, one of the country's last remaining breeding green turtles, is very special because for the first time ever we will find out where these big old survivors go after laying their eggs on TCI beaches, and identify other countries that should be helping us protect them," project officer Amdeep Sanghera said in the prepared statement.

Platenberg noted that in waters around the USVI, "we have really healthy populations of green sea turtles that forage in sea grass beds."

Although green turtles typically return to the same area where they hatched to nest, not much is known about where they go and what they do when they're not nesting, because traditional tagging only works when the turtle is on a beach and is spotted, Platenberg said.

She described the satellite tracking of Shyvonne's journey as "really, really cool."

She asked that anyone who happens to spot Shyvonne -- distinctive because the satellite tracking device is affixed onto her shell with epoxy -- not bother the turtle but report her sighting to the local Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue Network at 690-0474.

That organization will report the sighting to the Turks and Caicos Islands Turtle Project.

Richardson said the chances of anyone seeing Shyvonne around St Croix are "quite slim -- but if they do, it would be of interest to us, especially if they could describe what she was doing and what kind of seabed habitat she was over."

Copyright (c) 2010, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St Thomas
To see more of The Virgin Islands Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to
http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
 
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