Sea Turtle Tracking: Florida Leatherback Tracking Project

Dr. Lew Ehrhart and Dean Bagley (University of Central Florida) and Dr. Scott Eckert, Senior Research Biologist (Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute) succeeded in attaching a satellite transmitter to track the migration of a leatherback turtle after nesting in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. This is an historic event for the Archie Carr Refuge and an important step to understand the migration patterns of endangered leatherback turtles after they leave the nesting beaches of the Refuge and begin their long journey in the Atlantic Ocean. According to scientists, leatherback populations (especially in the Pacific) have declined more than 90% in the last 15 years due primarily the incidental killing of these turtles by commercial swordfishing fleets.

The expected life of the transmitter is 4 months. As long as the transmitter stays attached and functions properly, Eckert will be receiving satellite signals indicating China Girl’s position. China Girl laid 8 nests in the Carr Refuge this year. The average number of nests laid by leatherbacks in the Atlantic is 6, so she is a bit above the average.  The scientists are currently monitoring her daily movements and she now appears to be headed north to her foraging grounds. Dr. Eckert feels like she will likely head north to Canada and arrive there in July or August, then leave in late October or November for Africa in a pattern he has recorded from leatherbacks originating from beaches in the southern Caribbean.

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

china_girlCHINA GIRL – The tagged turtle was first seen nesting in the Archie Carr Refuge in 1994. She was named China Girl by UCF turtle biologist Dean Bagley to commemorate a group of Chinese scientists who were visiting the United States to learn how we protect sea turtles and their nesting beaches. China Girl is a regular visitor to Florida’s shores. She was observed nesting in the Carr Refuge in 1994, 1996 and in 2000. Scientists believe that she probably nested in 1998, but she was not encountered.