Using satellite tracking of green, Chelonia mydas, and hawksbill, Eretmochelys imbricata, turtles from Tortuguero, Costa Rica in community and international education

Daniel R. Evans1 and Sebastian Troëng2
1 Caribbean Conservation Corporation, 4424 NW 13th Street Suite A-1, Gainesville, FL 32609, USA
2 Caribbean Conservation Corporation, Apdo. Postal 246-2050, San Pedro, Costa Rica

Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) has continued the green turtle monitoring program begun in Tortuguero, Costa Rica by Dr. Archie Carr in the mid 1950s and year 2000 saw a significant event in the history of CCC and the village of Tortuguero.

It is well known that Dr. Carr was interested in the migratory behavior of Tortuguero’s nesting female green turtles. He approached the study of migration pathways by attaching a balloon to the back of female greens and followed the balloon in a small boat to see where the turtles went. Dr. Carr knew that there had to be a better way to study sea turtle migrations and even predicted in his book, Sea Turtle: So Excellent a Fishe, that the study of migration pathways would involve the use of satellites. CCC believes that Dr. Carr would be amazed by what researchers are able to do with satellite tracking technology in this day and age.

In 2000, CCC not only fulfilled Dr. Carr’s prediction of satellite tracking Tortuguero green turtles after they had nested, but also added hawksbills and incorporated the research into an educational program. The objective of this project was twofold. Firstly, it would be used to educate the public about the plight of sea turtles. Secondly, it would collect detailed information about Tortuguero green and hawksbill turtle migration patterns.

A total of eight satellite transmitters were attached to post-nesting green and hawksbill turtles over two different periods during the summer and fall of 2000. In July, 2000, CCC staff tagged two post-nesting green turtles with satellite tags. In addition, two post-nesting hawksbills were tagged with satellite transmitters as part of an international research project funded and organized by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to obtain information on the migration of Caribbean hawksbill turtles. Costa Rica is one of seven countries where the project was carried out. Researchers from Nicaragua and Belize traveled to Tortuguero as part of the NMFS project and participated in the July attachments to learn satellite transmitter attachment techniques. In September, CCC staff fitted four more post-nesting green turtles with satellite transmitters.

The release of sea turtles fitted with satellite transmitters was a major event for the community of Tortuguero. Tortuguero School and High School children entered a contest to select names for several of the turtles being released. In addition, the release was also a major event for visiting tourists, and attracted attention from TV and newspaper media. The project was covered in Costa Rican media and also received coverage in Belize, Canada, USA and even France.

The educational component to the project was built upon CCC’s Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program. Through this program students and the general public could follow the migration movements of the Tortuguero turtles on CCC’s web site ( The result was that the post-nesting migrations of the six green and two hawksbill turtles had a worldwide audience.

When we released the satellite tagged green turtles we were hoping that at least one green turtle would do something other than the anticipated route straight to the Miskito Cays, off the Nicaragua coast. CCC and the viewers were not disappointed. While most of the turtles did end up off the coast of Nicaragua, two of the greens traveled straight to, and then straight through, the Miskito Cays. One stopped off the coast of Honduras, while the other green, named by a Tortuguero High School student, decided not to stop until she reached the coast of Belize. This pathway provided a great story that was covered by both TV and newspaper media in Belize. It also provided justification for the development of blueways along the coast of Central America, as well as showing the importance of such treaties as the Tripartite Agreement and the Inter-American Convention.

With the attention paid to the web site and the online maps, CCC saw the need to increase the availability of the education program, so several of the web pages, including most of the educational program related web pages, were translated into Spanish.

Since Internet access is limited in Tortuguero, CCC staff print out updated maps of all the turtles to share with the schools and the entire Tortuguero community, including tour guides, park rangers, tourism operators and businesses. The tracking maps were used as an educational tool and seemed to get the greatest response from the school children.

CCC considers the first green and hawksbill turtle satellite tracking project at Tortuguero to be a great success. The project added to our knowledge of the migration pathways of post-nesting green turtles and gave us new information about the hawksbill turtles that nest at Tortuguero. The new research results were shared with local school children, residents and tourists through the activities carried out by CCC staff, and shared with anybody anywhere in the world through CCC’s education program on the World Wide Web.

The ability to “follow” along with researchers learning new information is a unique feature to the education program and helps spark an interest in sea turtles and their conservation. While Dr. Carr’s prediction about satellite tracking came true several years ago, it is now being applied to Tortuguero’s green and hawksbill turtles and is being used in ways beyond what Archie probably imagined.

NMFS provided funding for the project. George Balazs and Barbara Schroeder provided expert technical assistance and training in satellite transmitter attachment.

Abstract of paper presented at 21st International Symposium, 2001