Sea Turtle Expedition to Diego Garcia

by Emma Levy on

After a hugely successful sea turtle expedition to Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), Nicole Esteban from Swansea University writes an update on the work achieved.

Our recent sea turtle expedition to Diego Garcia ran from 25 June to 18 July 2018. The primary conservation research objective was to increase our understanding of sea turtle movements within and outside of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Satellite tags were attached to 12 nesting green turtles, bringing our total number of equipped nesters to 35 since we commenced this work in 2012. Additionally we equipped the first immature turtles, with eight hawksbill and two green turtles being satellite tagged in the Diego Garcia lagoon. Our long-term mark-recapture monitoring programme at Turtle Cove in the south of Diego Garcia lagoon was continued, with some immature turtles first flipper tagged in 1996. Additional objectives were to conduct an island-wide survey of turtle nesting activities and to deploy temperature loggers recording sand temperature to monitor turtle nesting incubation conditions in different beach zones.

  

Turtle team. DG, BIOT. Nicole Esteban
Members of the expedition team from left: Nicole Esteban, Jeanne Mortimer, Graeme Hays, Antenor Guzman, on the first day of immature turtle surveys at Turtle Cove

We commenced the expedition with a presentation about sea turtle conservation research in BIOT to a packed audience of around 100 military and civilian residents of Diego Garcia. Throughout our work we received tremendous support from personnel on Diego Garcia with 122 volunteers helping with our fieldwork.

Graeme Hays presenting on turtle research and volunteer opportunities. DG, BIOT. Nicole Esteban
Packed audience attend the sea turtle conservation research talk and volunteer sign-up at the start of the expedition.

We wait with baited breath to see the migration destinations of these turtles we equipped this year. In previous years, nesting turtles from Diego Garcia have broken the records for long distance migration with some individuals travelling to the African coast >4,000 km distant.  But not all of the turtles travel so far, with some travelling only 80 km to the Great Chagos Bank. We hope to uncover the reasons for this huge variation in migration distances.

Volunteers assisting with tagging green turtle. DG, BIOT. Nicole Esteban
Volunteers assisting with a satellite tag attachment at night to a green turtle that had completed nesting

This research was kindly funded by the Bertarelli Foundation as part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science.

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