Tagging Marine Turtles
Funding from our players is helping charity WWF-UK battle against the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans
August 12th, 2019
Our players have supported WWF-UK's turtle work in coastal Kenya for many years, including research with flipper tags and satellite tags.
Now they're adding a new gadget to their toolbox - camera tags!
WWF-UK use different tagging methods to better understand the population demographics and individual behaviour and movement of turtles. Through the use of satellite tags, for example, they can learn where a turtle is moving to when it's not nesting on a beach in Kenya. That information then allows them to learn about the broad habitat types that turtles are moving through.
By using camera tags, the charity can get footage of these underwater habitats and gain a much better understanding of the level of pollution and siltation. They hope to be taken on a visual journey with turtles as they travel through the vast ocean.
Mature female turtles always come back to the beach that they themselves hatched from to lay their eggs. They also come back to nest three to four times during each nesting season. That means there's a fair amount of predictability to their behaviour which WWF-UK can use to their advantage when tagging.
When they know the time is right, their teams (which consist of WWF-UK staff, Kenya Wildlife Service staff and members of the local community who are part of the Kiunga Turtle Conservation Group) stay up all night waiting for the turtles to come back and lay their eggs. They're very careful not to disturb the nesting process but once it's finished the experts carefully enclose the turtle in a temporary wooden barrier. They then quickly clean up its upper shell and attach the camera tag using durable glue. Caution, precision and timeliness are key.
Caution, Precision, Timeliness
What marine turtles do when they're at sea has always been a mystery. Through these tagging efforts, they're starting to build a picture for the marine turtles that visit Kenya. The information that comes from the camera tags will give even greater insight into the challenges being faced by marine turtles and the habitats they use.
One thing in particular the camera tagging will give insight into is the impact of marine plastics, as well as other types of pollution, on marine turtle habitats along the Kenyan coast and beyond. Shockingly, WWF-UK's Living Planet Report showed that an estimated 90% of seabirds and 50% of marine turtles have plastic in their stomachs. The oceans are choking with plastic and other solid waste and, if the current trends continue, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. WWF-UK want to understand the extent to which the turtles are having to navigate plastic pollution and how it impacts their daily lives.
Capturing this information on film also helps to tell a really powerful story to local communities and also to governments. WWF-UK hope that the footage from the camera tags will provide evidence that can contribute to efforts to beat the plastic pollution crisis that we're all facing.
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