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Environment and Science

Gearing Up for Tour de Turtles


It's become one of our region's most celebrated events.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) kicks off its 10th annual Tour de Turtles with a pair of loggerhead turtle releases on Sunday, July 30th, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Barrier Island Sanctuary. Located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in southern Melbourne Beach, close to 1,000 spectators are expected to turn up to cheer them on.  Outfitted with satellite transmitters, the loggerheads will be tracked over their approximately three-month migration as they leave their respective nesting beaches and "race" to complete the iconic turtle marathon.

With the aid from generous sponsors and partners, the Tour de Turtles will be releasing a record 20 live sea turtles in Costa Rica, Panama, Nevis, and Florida. Representing five different species this year, the ancient mariners will swim with the goal of being crowned the 2017 champion-- earning acclaim as the first turtle to swim the furthest distance.

Each competing turtle is an ambassador that raises awareness about a specific threat to to sea turtle hazards, such as boat strikes, ingestion of plastic debris, light pollution or commercial long-line fisheries. Teams of researchers track the turtles' movement.

By using satellite telemetry the STC staff track and discover more about their habits at sea and identify migratory patterns that may hold the key to the turtles' survival. The idea is to use the migration information to enhance conservation efforts, as well as to help people become more interested in the sea creatures.

According to STC since most research conducted on marine turtles has been carried out on nesting beaches and well over 90% of a sea turtle’s life is spent in the water — feeding, mating, migrating and doing whatever else a sea turtle does when no one is watching-- we are missing important information that can help us better protect them.

Through the transmitters atop their shells, STC and University of Central Florida researchers monitor the turtles' travels using the same satellites employed to monitor global weather patterns.  Each contestant’s progress can be followed closely for years. The tracking URL is at http://www.tourdeturtles.org

"The tracking provides us with critical information on sea turtle migration paths and nesting areas," says Dan Evans, a longtime STC technology and research specialist. “They are turning up in unexpected places like the Chesapeake Bay region and North Carolina. It's also influenced policy. Long-line fishing in the Gulf of Mexico moved out to deeper waters shifting their season around to accommodate the loggerheads."

According to Evans, to adequately protect sea turtles in all their habitats, we must learn more about their migratory patterns, their behavior at sea, where their marine habitats are located, how the turtles use these different habitats, and the migration routes turtles travel between habitats. Research into the behavior and life cycle of marine turtles has shown us that these creatures do not generally nest and feed in the same area. We now know that sea turtles are highly migratory, often traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles between the beaches where they lay their eggs and the foraging (feeding) grounds where they spend much of their time at sea.

The superstar of sea turtles is the leatherback.  It grows the largest (upwards of 1,500 pounds), dives the deepest, and travels the fastest (top speed 22 mph) and farthest of all sea turtles. A leatherback named Lady Aurelia was crowned the champion of the 2016 Tour de Turtles. She traveled from Panama, her birthplace, to Saint Pierre and Miquelon, north of Nova Scotia, swimming 3,465 miles to victory in the three month marathon. The “race” began at the start of August 2016 and ended October 3 1, said Lexie Beach, STC's communications coordinator.

In 2016 a pair of female loggerheads released from Bonsteel Park near the Barrier Island Santuary finished in second and third place from a field of 14 reptiles-- Leonora (2,053 miles, second place) and Turpac (1,965 miles, third place). Both satellite transmitter-equipped loggerheads migrated from the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge southward to Cuba, surprising STC  researchers.

Stretching southward into Indian River County, the 20.5 miles of rural beaches of the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge comprise the top loggerhead nesting site in the world.

In the world of sea turtle research and conservation, Dr. Archie Carr (1909-1987) stands alone. He received his Ph.D. in zoology in 1937 from the University of Florida, where Carr taught for 55 years. He was a conservation biologist before the field was recognized and  traveled widely to unravel many mysteries of the sea turtles' complex life cycles.

A longtime resident of Micanopy, Fla., Dr. Carr was a man of considerable wit and a brilliant writer for both scientific and popular literature. He  authored ten books about these elusive creatures and their habitats throughout Florida, the Caribbean, and Africa. Dr. Carr's son Archie Carr III ("Chuck") is an active member of Sea Turtle Conservancy's Board of Directors.

To achieve its mission, Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools.

This year's pair of southern Melbourne Beach loggerheads are sponsored by Ripley’s Aquariums and Shark Reef. Join the Sea Turtle Conservancy as they kick off Tour de Turtles with a celebration featuring hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, live music, and a silent auction to benefit sea turtle conservation and habitat protection in Brevard County. All proceeds from the event support sea turtle conservation efforts.

Date: Saturday, July 29th
Time: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Barrier Island Center 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL
Entrance: Cost: $20 in advance or $35 at the door (if available).

The turtle release event is scheduled for Sunday morning, July 30 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.