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Sun Herald News Article by Michael Newsom- November 30, 2010
Just Look Online, It's Easy to Trace the Tracks of Our Turtles

SunHerald

The six turtles the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies recently tagged with satellite tracking devices and released into Mississippi waters are on the move -- one of which has made it from Ship Island to just south of Venice, La.

The first three of the six Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles were released Nov. 20 two miles south Ship Island near Camille Cut, and one of them, Terry, has made it to a point near East Bay off Louisiana, which is close to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Terry, a juvenile, was caught on a hook in Waveland in September. He was brought to IMMS, where the hook was removed. He was also treated for other medical conditions and has made a full recovery.

The movements have been placed on the IMMS website, imms.org, so anyone can track the turtles. IMMS President and Executive Director Moby Solangi believes children could benefit from monitoring the turtles.

“This is a great educational tool,” Solangi said.

The turtles’ shells were scrubbed with acetone to clean them, lightly sanded, and then an adhesive was applied to hold a neoprene swath. The antenna-equipped tracking device was placed on the swath. The neoprene is essential because it can secure the device, but still allows the shell to grow. The bonding materials will break down and usually the device and other materials fall off within a couple of years. Researchers say it’s a humane system that yields much information.

Solangi said the tracking devices cost more than $2,000 each and the monitoring, which involves sending the signal to a satellite, costs about $4,000 a year. Every six hours the coordinates are updated and mapped using GPS technology. Solangi said the data could show how well the rescued turtles are recovering and could give researchers data about their movements. This information might help with conservation strategies, officials said.

Terry, along with his cohorts Crush and Marlin, were released Nov. 20. Skipper, Squirt and Scuter were released Nov. 23. Marlin got his name from sculptor Marlin Miller, who is known for his wood carvings of marine life along U.S. 90.

The oil gusher has kept the IMMS busy at its facility off Cowan-Lorraine Road in Gulfport. Staff there normally respond to one to four calls about stranded turtles in a given year, but this year they received considerably more.

They’ve recovered more than 300 dead turtles and rescued more than 40 turtles in the state since the oil spill. IMMS officials believe the increase is because the oil didn’t hit Mississippi waters as hard as neighboring states, and as a result, turtles migrated here looking for cleaner waters. Another reason could be those turtles followed fish to less-oily waters, IMMS said. The feeling among IMMS officials, though, is it may take years to see the full effects of the spill in wildlife because the oil has to work its way up the food chain.

Solangi said it appears the turtles are moving into waters that are being dredged and fished, so he wants anyone who might happen to catch one of the turtles, or see one in distress, to call IMMS immediately.

“If any one of them is hurt, we want to take care of them,” Solangi said.

By: Michael Newson - Sun Herald

Follow the turtles on the Satellite Tracking Map!


SunHerald Photos by John Fitzhugh


IMMS Photos

(Left) Senator Thad Cochran returning sea turtle to its home. (Right) IMMS veterinarian Dr. Connie Chevis with sea turtle.
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