STC satellite tracks green sea turtles from Cuba

Issue 3, 2016

STC satellite tracks green sea turtles from Cuba

By Lexie Beach

This past summer, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) continued its partnership with sea turtle conservationists working at the Guanahacabibes National Park in Cuba. In addition to bringing a group of members and donors to visit Cuba and the sea turtle project at Guanahacabibes, STC secured funding to deploy satellite transmitters on sea turtles as part of its online educational program, Tour de Turtles. Over four nights, STC and staff from the ProTortugas Peninsula de Guanacabibes were able to attach satellite transmitters to two green sea turtles, “Julia”, sponsored by The Turtle Hospital, and “Esperanza”, sponsored by Sea Life Trust, after they successfully nested. Since it was early in the nesting season, it was expected that both sea turtles would stay just offshore of the nesting beach and return every 12 to 14 days to nest again over the next few months.

Surprisingly, one turtle, Esperanza (which means “hope” in Spanish), began migrating south, leaving the area. She swam south for a few days and then turned west towards Mexico, eventually reaching the Mexican coastline near Cancun. She then proceeded to swim south along the coast all the way to San Pedro, near Belize.

In July, STC was contacted by turtle colleagues in Mexico who had spotted a green turtle, with a satellite transmitter on her shell, nesting on the coast of the Quintana Roo Province of Mexico. It was Esperanza! After receiving photos from the Mexican biologists, STC was able to identify Esperanza by both her flipper tag number and her satellite transmitter. This discovery is very important because it helps confirm a pattern Julia Azanza Ricardo, with the Cuban Marine Turtle Conservation Program, has been observing based on flipper tags and genetics.

But Esperanza was different. She was the first confirmed sea turtle to nest in Cuba and then migrate to Mexico to nest again during the same nesting season. This is very unusual and suggests that this green sea turtle population may not be as loyal to one beach as we thought! Most females return faithfully to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Not only do they appear on the same beach, they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested. One of the benefits of using satellite transmitters to track sea turtles is that it helps us determine a turtle’s nesting site fidelity. Or in this case, its lack of fidelity.

Esperanza continued to surprise with additional travels, but she eventually stopped in a known foraging (feeding) area on the western coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. STC became familiar with the area important to green sea turtles when a green sea turtle named “Adele” was tracked from Tortuguero, Costa Rica to the very same area where Esperanza is currently located.

STC continues to track Esperanza’s movements, and you can too, on STC’s website at