Unveiling the feeding grounds of Curacao Sea Turtles: A Collaborative Project in Tagging and Tracking

Sea turtles glide gracefully through the depths, as they reach the coastal waters of Curacao. It is here that they like to spend some time before they continue their journey onward. Unlocking the mysteries of their feeding habits is essential for their conservation. Enter a unique collaboration between Dr. Manuela Tripepi, Associate Professor of Biology at Jefferson University, Philadelphia, and the Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao. Together, they embark on a project to tag and track sea turtles in Curacao, shedding light on their elusive behaviors and contributing to their long-term protection.

Sea turtles are remarkable creatures, and their feeding habits play a crucial role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. Their foraging behaviors and preferred feeding grounds could be factors to the Fibropapillomatosis (FP) disease currently found on the green sea turtles present around the island.

The pathogenesis and epidemiology of FP in marine sea turtles is poorly understood, though the disease is believed to be caused by a combination of factors that activate the Chelonid alphaherpesvirus 5 (ChHV5), which is responsible for the disease. One primary factor is believed to be the environmental pollutants present in the turtles’ habitats and a compromised immune system in the turtles. In Curacao, FP has been observed in green sea turtle populations in specific areas and is considered a major threat to the species’ survival.

Using radio transmitters, this project will collect data on affected sea turtles and compare their habits with healthy ones living in the same areas. The project will first analyze the area of Caracas Baai, where 75% of the turtles examined showed tumors.

Dr. Manuela Tripepi brings her expertise and passion for research that focuses on stress responses. Her research investigates how different organisms respond to various stressors and the impact that these stressors can have on their survival strategies. Working in close collaboration, the team will carefully capture, tag, and release the sea turtles while ensuring the safety and well-being of these magnificent creatures.

Once tagged, sea turtles become living data transmitters. Their movements are tracked using radio transmitter technology, allowing the researchers to map their migration patterns, identify feeding spots, and explore the impact of environmental factors on their behavior. Understanding their feeding habits and migratory patterns enables the identification and protection of critical habitats. It empowers policymakers and conservation organizations to implement targeted measures to preserve these habitats and mitigate human-induced threats.

Dr. Manuela Tripepi and the Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao combine scientific expertise, and fieldwork experience, that together with radio technology will make this project a success. This endeavor not only advances our knowledge but also lays the foundation for effective conservation strategies. Together, we can ensure the future of these enchanting creatures and the fragile ecosystems they call home.