GULFPORT -- The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has discovered a couple of amazing facts about endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles: Their sense of navigation appears more refined than anyone realized and the north central Gulf of Mexico serves as a nursery for juveniles.
The BP oil catastrophe kindled interest in marine-life research, which has been severely lacking in the Gulf from Louisiana through Alabama. Grant funds that followed the catastrophe have allowed IMMS to tag and track rehabilitated juvenile turtles, most caught by fishermen.
The second batch was released in Florida because the Sunshine State offers turtles the nicest home. Right? Not so much.
“This is a remarkable story,” said Moby Solangi, executive director at IMMS. The turtles breed and nest in Mexico, then spend their juvenile and adult lives in the Gulf. Little else is known about their comings and goings.
The first group of six tagged turtles was released at Ship Island, but the second group was taken to Cedar Key, Fla. Solangi said he was assured by the Floridians who helped: “We are going to put them in a nice place. It’s called Turtle Heaven.”
Solangi said, “Man, did they run out of that heaven.” The turtles, all juveniles, wasted no time swimming back toward Mississippi. Most of them lost their satellite tags after only a short time. The tags pop off as they grow.
But Strider, an older juvenile, has worn his tag for 230 days. Strider has traveled almost 2,000 miles. He made a beeline for the Mississippi Sound then, as the weather cooled, headed south. He is now west of the Mississippi River in the Gulf.
“This is their habitat,” Solangi said. “They do have the ability to find home. Now we recognize that relocating animals out of their territory might not be advantageous to the turtles.”
Solangi said the discovery provides valuable information for agencies working with the turtles. His team will present their findings at a southeastern conference of turtle experts in February.
By Anita Lee