Tagging turtles for the sake of research
JAMES ISLAND, SC (WCIV) -- It's rare to see Loggerheads and other sea turtles on land except during nesting and hatching, so it makes studying them a bit of a challenge.
You have to get out on the water to do research and that's exactly what one local biologist with the state's Department of Natural Resources does.
Lady Lisa is one of two research vessels where the research work is done. Crews are out on the water five days at a time, six weeks throughout the year.
"We randomly trawl for sea turtles in the coastal waters all the way from South Carolina down to North Florida to get a sense for how many turtles there are and how healthy they are," said Michael Arendt , Wildlife Biologist III with SC DNR.
But capturing the turtle is just the first step.
"From the time the animal comes on board and you get it out of the net, it's like a pit crew. Everything is a well-oiled machine," said Arendt.
The crew must check for life-threatening injuries, do blood work and tag it, unless it has already been tagged previously. And it all happens in the span of about 15 minutes.
"The passive integrated transponder tags, the microchips, that we put internally, we inject them into the shoulder and the flipper. Those will stay on indefinitely," said Arendt.
Some turtles also get a satellite tag.
"What the satellite tag does is give you really detailed, fine scale information about where that animal is over the course of hopefully that full year. The tags can pop off, the animals can go rub them off on an artificial reef or something like that," said Arendt.
But since they cost $1,500 each, they only deploy a few every year.
"The last two years we have been doing more satellite telemetry work just focused on the adult males and what we have seen so far with our seven tags that we have deployed -- five last year and two this summer," said Arendt.
The goal of tagging the animals is to learn more about them.
"How many sea turtles are there? It's mostly Loggerheads that we are catching and also Kemps Ridleys, but how many are out there?" asked Arendt. "What are their sizes? Are they growing? Can we expect you know these animals are they surviving? And then can we expect them to contribute in the future to the reproductive component of the population?"
And the more we know, the more we can do to protect these threatened species.
Since the project began in 2000, over 2,000 turtles have been tagged. All the tags provide helpful information, although the only ones that can be accessed remotely are the satellite ones -- and the batteries only last about a year.??