Southeast Ecological Science Center
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Tracking the Habits of Elusive Sea Turtles
When a portion of Dry Tortugas National Park was designated as a Research Natural Area in January 2007 to protect coral reef benthic habitats, it provided an opportunity for researchers to characterize how marine turtle species use these protected areas. Originally intended to protect fisheries, the protected area also includes several sandy beaches that provide nesting habitat suitable for species of marine turtles on the U.S. Endangered Species List. Information on the diets of turtles and their use of habitats in the Park will help managers develop and assess the area's management strategies.
To collect specific information about how turtles use the Park's habitats, USGS scientists fit turtles with satellite and acoustic tags that regularly transmit information about their location. By documenting the locations of turtles, the data can be used to analyze the patterns of turtle habitat-use within various zones of the Park, and beyond. Scientists can also use the data to study the condition of those habitats.
The research provides insights into sea turtle diet, behavior, and female movements between nesting events. Eventually, the information will be used to develop more effective decision-support tools for managing coral ecosystems. Scientists are also gaining an understanding of valuable "baseline" resource conditions, sea turtle diets, and turtle behavior. If conditions change in the reef ecosystems that marine turtles inhabit, these data will be extremely valuable for quantifying the impacts of those changes on sea turtles.