Sea Turtle Tracking: Flower Garden Banks Sea Project


Researcher Emma Hickerson (Texas A&M University and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) is looking at the habits and ecology of sea turtles, especially males, that use the Flower Garden Banks coral reefs while subadults, then follow the turtles as they mature and move away from the sanctuary. This study will also help develop management plans for protecting sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Located one hundred miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, a pair of underwater gardens emerge from the depths of Gulf of Mexico like oases in the desert. The Flower Garden Banks was designated National Marine Sanctuary in 1992 and contains about 350 acres of tropical coral reef. This oasis consists of three banks, East and West Flower Garden Banks, separate submerged salt dome features supporting the northern most coral reefs on the continental shelf of North America, and Stetson Bank, a sponge and coral community to the Northeast of the East and West Banks.

For more information on sea turtles, check out the Sea Turtles Information section of our website.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would like to thank John McCarthy of the Manasota Key Turtle Patrol, Jerris Foote of Mote Marine Laboratory, and Lew Ehrhart and Dean Bagley of the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group for their assistance with this project.

Click on the turtle’s name to see a map of its movements.

LUCKY – Lucky, probably another female, is the fifth turtle captured for the project. She was captured on October 13, 1998 at the East Bank of the Flower Gardens. She is a beautiful sub-adult Loggerhead weighing approximately 180 lbs. Her carapace length is 85.8cm. She has been outfitted with an ST-6 Telonics satellite tag, and a radio transmitter.

CHOCOLATE – Chocolate, probably another female, is the forth turtle captured for the project. A 100 lb subadult loggerhead, she was captured on August 14, 1998, at the East Flower Garden Bank in the middle of the day. Researchers were at the Flower Gardens to document the annual coral spawning event, which was quite a sight later that night! Chocolate was a fairly calm animal on deck, in comparison to Marie, who was rather feisty.

MARIE – The third turtle to be captured in the study was caught on June 24, 1998. A subadult female loggerhead, Marie was caught at the East Flower Garden Bank, weighing 110 lbs.

TRITON – The first turtle to be captured in the study was caught on June 21, 1995. A subadult male loggerhead, Triton was caught at the West Flower Garden Bank and had a shell length of 99 cm. Almost a year later he has caught again, to replace his transmitter, in the same location. He now measures 101 cm.

Triton was caught a third time in February, 1997 at the same location indicating his preference for the West Flower Garden Bank. Researchers are hoping he will fully develop into a breeding adult this year and begin his voyage away from the Flower Garden Banks in search of a mate.

Triton was observed in March, 1998, basking at the surface of ocean around the Flower Garden Banks. In October, 1998, Triton presented himself. He swam up to the boat, proudly displaying his great long tail. Divers also saw him underwater, but were unable to recapture him. Researchers will be attempting to recapture him in early December.

PHILOS – Philos, caught in August 14, 1997 is a subadult female loggerhead, measuring 74.5 cm in carapace (shell) length. Like Triton she seems to prefer the West Flower Garden Bank, except for her last point. Based on the most recent location point, Philos has returned to the sanctuary.

In October, 1998, research Emma Hickerson was fortunate enough to swim with Philos at the West Bank – she looks lovely and healthy.

General map showing the East and West Banks in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sactuary.

Project funded by Dr. Richard Byles, Dr. Pamela Plotkin, Flower Garden Fund, Grey’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, GREAT, Margaret Cullinan Wray Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, NOAA, Rinn Boats, Inc., Rock Prairie Elementary School, Sea Grant College Program, Texas A&M University – Biology Department and TGCC.