Sea Turtle Satellite Tagging Expedition at Cocos Island, Costa Rica Swims Into Action:
Seeks Information Needed to Guide Creation of High Seas Marine Protected Areas for Endangered Marine Species

(San José, Costa Rica – Sept 1, 2009)
A 10-day sea turtle tagging research expedition to Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica successfully outfitted three green turtles and one hawksbill turtle with satellite transmitters in order to follow their movements, as part of a long-term research project to understand the importance of Cocos Island for highly pelagic species that migrate throughout the Pacific.  Two other green turtles had been previously tagged last March.  The aim of the study is to document migration patterns of east Pacific endangered marine species in order to establish protected migration corridors for these species.

Green turtle to be tagged

Each time one of the four sea turtles surfaces for air, the high-tech satellite transmitter, glued to its shell with epoxy, sends a signal to a series of satellites circling the Earth, which determines the turtle location and the water temperature, and sends the information directly to researchers computers.

“The information we are collecting is necessary if we are to protect these amazing species as they migrate thousands of miles across the Pacific, where they encounter industrial fishing operations, which catch and kills thousands of turtles every year,” said Randall Arauz, President of the Costa Rican NGO, and co-leader of the trip.

In total, 26 sea turtles were also marked given permanent flipper ID tags and nine turtles received acoustic tags, which are recorded by underwater receivers placed around Cocos Island, as well as other sites in the Pacific, including the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and Malpelo Island, Colombia.

“If we don’t better manage industrial fisheries to avoid interactions with the ancient sea turtles that out-survived the dinosaurs, we will lose some species in the very near future,” warned Todd Steiner, a biologist and executive director of the US-based Turtle Island Restoration Network, and co-leader of the trip with Arauz.  “The best way to do this is to understand turtle migrations and reduce fishing effort, especially in migration hot-spots.”

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Attaching the satellite transmitter

In addition to tagging sea turtles, a total of 6 more scalloped hammerhead sharks were equipped with acoustical tags on this trip, for a total of 60 since the project initiated in 2005.  Previous tagged hammerheads indicate the sharks move back and forth between Cocos, Galapagos, and Malpelo Islands.  Furthermore, a new permit was issued to PRETOMA for the collection of tissue samples to set up a marine shark and turtle “gene bank”, for genetic analysis, and samples from 20 turtles and 18 white-tip sharks, were collected that will be made available to researchers.

According to Arauz, the information generated so far is proving that Cocos Island is an important feeding, resting, and nursery location for many pelagic species of sharks and turtles.  “To protect this international gem, Costa Rica must enact larger no-fishing zones around the island and increase enforcement activities,” said Arauz.

Participants included biologists and research assistants from Costa Rica, US, Colombia, Australia, and Bellarus, and the expedition used the excellent support services and accommodations of the Costa Rican-based UnderSea Hunter live-aboard dive company.

For more pictures of the turtle/shark tagging expedition, click here

The expedition was supported by the Whitley Fund for Nature, the BBC Wildlife Fund, and Pretoma’s Corporate Membership.

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Releasing the turtle

For more information, contact:

Randall Arauz, PRETOMA, Costa Rica.  (506) 2241 5227, rarauz@pretoma.org; info@pretoma.org
Todd Steiner, Turtle Island Restoration Network, 415-663-8590 X103, tsteiner@tirn.net

Pretoma is a Costa Rican Civil Association of Public Interest and is an active member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN and the World Society for the Protection of Animals WSPA. For more information visit www.pretoma.org

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California, which works to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org

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    Sea Turtle Satellite Tagging Expedition at Cocos Island, Costa Rica Swims Into Action: Seeks Information Needed to Guide Creation of High Seas Marine Protected Areas for Endangered Marine Species (San José, Costa Rica – Sept 1, 2009) A 10-day sea turtle tagging research expedition to Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica successfully...