Brno and Liberec Zoos Fit Sea Turtles In Indonesia With Radios To Map Ocean Movement Patterns

The study hopes to obtain data about the reptiles’ post-nesting migration patterns, to help protect sea turtles in the region. Credit: Brno Zoo

Brno, Aug 3 (BD) – Brno Zoo and Liberec Zoo are fitting sea turtles in Indonesia with radios to map the movement of the reptiles in the ocean. Special GPS radios were placed by field zoologists on four adult female giant turtles at two different locations off the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The study hopes to obtain data about the reptiles’ post-nesting migration patterns, to help protect sea turtles in the region more effectively.

One of the main missions of modern zoos is so-called in situ protection, i.e. protecting endangered species directly in their natural habitat. For this purpose, zoos implement many field projects around the world. Liberec Zoo and Brno Zoo have long been active in the field of biodiversity and marine ecosystem protection in Indonesia. Now they have joined forces and started a research study to monitor the movement and migration of sea turtles in Sumatra. Information on the movements of sea turtles in Sumatra is lacking, so the research will provide completely new and unique information that has not been available before.

The first two GPS transmitters were installed at the end of June by two females of giant green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) immediately after laying eggs on one of the beaches of the uninhabited island of Bangkaru in the Pulau Banyak archipelago. Bangkaru is one of the most important hatcheries of giant turtles in Sumatra, and Liberec Zoo has been involved in its protection since 2015. The equipment deployed is already providing the first data on the movements of the animals. “In three weeks, the turtles travelled more than 300 km, and both continued in a southeasterly direction,” said Adéla Hemelíková, a field zoologist at the Liberec Zoo and head of the research project. 

The turtles are geolocated via satellite every time they raise their heads and part of their shells above the surface to breathe. According to Hemelíková, placing a radio on a sea turtle is not a complicated process. “The shell of sea turtles provides a large enough surface area for attachment,” she said. 

Researchers from the Czech zoos are working with local conservationists. Credit: Brno Zoo.

“Due to the size of the turtle and the relatively small size of the device, the radios do not restrict the turtle’s movement or other natural activities. The entire deployment process took approximately two and a half hours for each turtle, and the animals were immediately released back into the sea,” she added. In cooperation with local conservationists, the zoologists from Liberec placed two more GPS devices on the other two turtles in mid-July on Pandan Island, in the protected Pieh marine nature reserve on the west coast of Sumatra, near the city of Padang.

The transmitters for the research were provided by the Brno Zoo, which itself was once behind the birth of a rescue and rehabilitation centre for sea turtles called Kura Kura, an endangered turtle on the Indonesian island of Nusa Penida. 

The satellite transmitters were obtained for the project with subsidies from the Czech Ministry of the Environment and the European Association of Aquarium Curators. “We are looking for new procedures to help protect sea turtles, and these satellite transmitters will monitor their movements in an area where this has not yet been done systematically,” said Director of Brno Zoo Radana Dungelová. “I believe that the data we will evaluate in mutual cooperation will help to better understand the ecology of these animals and to more effectively protect these endangered species.” 

The Liberec Zoo has been conducting research on sea turtles in Sumatra since 2021 under the leadership of its field zoologist Adéla Hemelíková. The first part of the research is devoted to a questionnaire survey, which focuses on hunting and other ways of using sea turtles by local communities. It helps conservationists uncover the mechanisms of sea turtle consumption and trade and its socio-economic and cultural causes. 

The second part of the research deals with the identification of the genetic structures of the populations of Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and giant turtles that nest on the beaches of Sumatra. “Knowledge of sea turtle genetics is key to distinguishing individual sea turtle populations, defining territorial units for their protection, but also in identifying their migration routes,” explained Hemelíková. “In addition, genetic methods for sea turtles can also be used to monitor illegal trade or assess the impact of fishing, as turtles often end up in fishing nets as unwanted by-catch.”

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