Tag Archives: Red Rockette

No more Christie

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Christie’s tag stopped transmitting on Saturday.

We are so disappointed. She was just 300 kilometers away from where we expected her to nest. She had logged approximately 11,500 kilometres since we tagged her.

Data from the tag on March 28 showed that she was diving normally and that the tag had plenty of battery. But, as you may remember, Christie had just started onto the shelf waters, a place where we know leatherbacks mate. It is our best guess that a male turtle damaged the antenna of the transmitter or knocked the tag off her altogether.

There is also always a possibility that she was caught in fishing gear.

If indeed, as we hope, Christie simply lost the tag mating, then we will keep our fingers crossed that someone finds our turtle when she eventually hauls up on the nesting beach. She should still have her flipper tags safely in place as well as her microchip. And there is a chance that her transmitter is still on. If that’s the case, the transmitter can be recovered—along with all of the important data it contains—if someone finds her. This happened before in the amazing story of Red Rockette. So we remain cautiously optimistic.

But we will miss following her movements. Christie was a bright spot in our days as we checked always with excitement to see how far she’d travelled. What a privilege it was to watch her remarkable journey (11,500 kilometres!!) up close.

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Asha’s track is finished

2015_02_26

No new hits from Asha. We’ve heard nothing from her tag since February 11. She has officially gone offline.

The question in these situations is always: Why?

I can’t answer with certainty except to say I don’t know.

We don’t think that she has been hurt. Because her tag hits trickled down, it is unlikely that we’ve lost contact for any reason other than the failure of the tag in some respect.

It is possible that the tag was knocked off of her shell, though this is also unlikely because the hits to the satellite slowly decreased.

It is most likely that the tag was biofouled, which happens when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag and impact how it performs.

But here is the silver lining. She may yet be found (as in the remarkable case of Red Rockette!). In addition to her satellite tag, Asha was wearing flipper tags. These are the small metal tags sea turtle researchers attach to turtles’ flippers as a way of identifying the animals. The tags have an ID code on one side (our codes start with CAN for “Canada”) and the research group’s mailing address on the other. Asha is also microchipped with a number that is linked to our group.

So if she does nest on a beach where there is a monitoring program, one of our colleagues in the Caribbean will find her and will be able to tell us about her. If we’re extra lucky, she’ll still be wearing the satellite tag and we’ll have the chance to get it back.

The trick with Asha, however, is that she has no known nesting history. She was not previously flipper tagged or microchipped by another group. We didn’t know where in the ocean she was going.

So the happy ending to this story that we’re hoping for may be some time in coming. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that Asha stays safe in the meantime.

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Transmission trouble

2015_02_05

Beverly is still way north and east of where we’d expect to see her. She’s only about 330 km from the Azores! Christie is just where we’d expect her—about 1,600 km from Trinidad, where she should be heading to nest in the next few months.

And then there is Asha. You can see that we haven’t had a good hit from her satellite tag since last week. We’re not getting any satellite locations from her tag, although the tag is still trying to communicate.

In order to get a location, the satellite must receive approximately four messages from the tag when it passes over. It takes that much information to verify where the tag is. Right now, it seems as though Asha’s tag is sending only one message at a time. We haven’t determined why quite yet, though we suspect the tag might have biofouling issues. Biofouling is when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag and impact its performance.

Although frustrating, this isn’t unusual. You may remember a similar situation with Jacquelyn and the remarkable story of Red Rockette!

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The beeline

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Today there is good news and not-so-good news about Margaret.

The good news is that she is making a beeline for the nesting beaches of Trinidad. Check out this map.

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She left coastal Barbados three days ago, and look at how close she is to Trinidad already! The nesting season has already started there, although peak season is still about two months away.

2014_02_27_Map_TrinidadIn the Atlantic, mature female leatherback turtles do not nest every year. They nest every two or three years. During their nesting years, they will generally lay around eight nests, about 10 days apart. In 2011, Margaret was recorded nesting both at Matura and Grande Riviere beaches in Trinidad. We’ve contacted our colleagues who work on those beaches, and we will continue to keep them posted about Margaret’s location. We hope that they will find her when she nests and remove her valuable transmitter so we can deploy it on another leatherback in Canada.

The not-so-good news is that the quality of the locations we’ve received from Margaret’s transmitter over the past few days has not been good. I yelled “No!” out loud this morning when Devan, our turtle technician, told me that the last series of locations were  “B” class. B-class locations are the poorest quality, and generally indicate that only two tag transmissions were received by the satellite to calculate the turtle’s position. The more transmissions the satellite receives, the better its estimate of the turtle’s location.

A long series of B location estimates—especially over several days—can mean the turtle is spending very little time at the surface of the water. It can also mean that the tag is running low on battery power or has started to “biofoul.” Biofouling is when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag. This can negatively impact the tag’s performance.

This may mean that we will lose transmissions from Margaret’s transmitter altogether—even before she makes it to the nesting beach. (You may remember this is what happened with Jacquelyn.) It doesn’t mean, however, that someone won’t find Margaret on the beach anyway. Last year, dedicated beach workers in Colombia found our turtle Red Rockette after her transmitter had stopped working. It’s just a lot harder to do.

I hate when this happens just when the animals are so close to nesting! But at least we know where Margaret is heading. Stay tuned…

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Red Rockette’s tag is back!

We have Red Rockette’s satellite tag back! Our friends who monitor sea turtles on Bobalito Beach, Colombia, found her—even though we had lost contact with her satellite transmitter.

“Just as we were getting ready to intercept this turtle her tag appears to have stopped transmitting,” wrote Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James to the project coordinators for Bobalito beach at the beginning of April. “What bad timing! 9.5 months of tracking, and then a few days before the best chance of getting the tag, no more locations!”

Nonetheless, with faith in the value of human persistence, the team at Bobalito continued their search. Lilian Barreto Sánchez from Conservación Ambiente Colombia Foundation rounded up extra beach monitors to help look for Red Rockette. People who had motorbikes and lived nearby helped transport the monitors to various parts of the beach so that they could increase their search efforts. The beach monitors used walkie-talkies to keep in touch with each other, but struggled with reception “gaps” over large sections of beach.

The Colombian team continued to patrol the beach for weeks. Every email from Lilian reported that they hadn’t seen Red Rockette yet, but that they were determined to find her. They were determined even though they were searching (on foot) a stretch of beach more than 10 kilometres long; even though there was no guarantee Red Rockette would come back to Bobalito beach again; even though less than a handful of leatherbacks had been recorded nesting on Bobalito so far this year.

And they found her.

“It was amazing!” Lilian wrote. “We are happier than I know how to say.”

“This is a remarkable international achievement,” says Mike. “It’s really worth celebrating. It was amazing that we were able to coordinate a search for this turtle with this group despite the language barriers and the great distance separating us, and even after the satellite tag had stopped.”

It is this kind of international cooperation—and just this kind of grassroots persistence—that we need to conserve endangered leatherbacks.

Lilian is scheduled to make the trip back from Necoclí, the community near Bobalito beach, to her home in the city of Bogotá today. She is going to call us when she is there, so we will have more details to share soon.

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Red Rockette wins!

In the early hours of this morning, Red Rockette nested on a beach in Colombia called Bobalito, near the community of Necoclí.

We are thrilled!

The first of the maps below shows her whole track—all the way from Nova Scotia to Colombia. The second is a closer view of her more recent positions in relation to the Colombian coast. The third—my favourite—shows her movements between 8:49 p.m. COT (Colombia time, which is 10:49 p.m. Halifax time) yesterday evening and 8:23 a.m. COT (10:23 a.m. Halifax time) today.

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This turtle, whose movements are being watched so carefully by so many of us, laid her first nest without encountering a human. And although there is something lovely about imagining her alone carefully carving out that nest in the moonlight, we want someone to find her next time. We want her satellite tag back!

Leatherbacks nest several times a season. Red Rockette will come back to land to nest again in a week or so. We are lucky to have help from our friends at the Conservación Ambiente Colombia Foundation (CACF). CACF supports a relatively new sea turtle program at Bobalito Beach. Community leaders from the village of El Lechugal—which used to poach almost all of the nesting turtles—launched a conservation program at Bobalito to protect the animals, engaging their community in projects like sea turtle monitoring and environmental education.

Thanks to our colleagues at CACF, the community had already begun patrolling Bobalito in anticipation of Red Rockette nesting—long hours of walking slowly up and down the many kilometers of beach. However, now that we know Red Rockette has nested on Bobalito once already, even more community members will begin patrolling the beach to increase our chance of finding the turtle next time.

It is difficult to communicate with Bobalito—there is minimal cell coverage and Internet access. But CACF is working hard on our behalf to establish a communication chain that will allow our updates of Red Rockette’s positions to reach the community quickly.

Now we have to hope for a couple of things: We have to hope that Red Rockette’s satellite tag keeps transmitting and we have to hope that she chooses to nest on Bobalito again. If she moves even a little to the east near the community of Mulatos the odds of finding her aren’t as good. The beach at Mulatos is very long and the sea turtle program there is only just beginning.

So now—again—we wait!

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On turtle time

This is the part where we feel like kids waiting for a birthday. When will the turtles nest? Today? Tomorrow? Three weeks from now? Our team is on alert, counting the days and hours between satellite uploads, texting and calling each other late into the night when the data comes in.

And all the while, Red Rockette is behaving in classic leatherback fashion, swimming around the nesting area, probably mating.

To be honest, it’s a bit frustrating.

Check out this map.

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There she is, super close to the beach on March 14. Then, she bounces out of the Gulf of Uraba a little on the morning of the 16th. We wonder all that day if she’s heading somewhere else, when she swims back closer to shore again that evening. We wait. Our colleagues on the nesting beaches—with whom we are in constant email contact—are prepared for her possible arrival.

Then when we hear from her again on March 18, she’s off again, away from the beach.

“This is completely normal behaviour,” says leatherback scientist Dr. Mike James.

Normal. And frustrating. And exciting.

Because in this world, where we have instant access to so many answers, there is something marvelous about being held in complete suspense.

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Week 22 Map

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Here are recent positions for Inspire and Red Rockette. They are hovering just offshore. The first two maps show Inspire’s position off Dominican Republic. The second two show Red Rockette, who seems to be heading for Colombia.

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Another possible nester: Red Rockette!

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Another one of our leatherbacks is closing in on a nesting beach! Red Rockette is just off the coast of the Panama—Colombia border. She does not have a recorded nesting history, so it is too early to call where she will end up. There are five beaches in contention right now: Armila in Panama; and Acandí, Capitancito, Playeta, and Playona in Colombia.

We have had a Canadian turtle found at Playona in Colombia before with the help of local people working there from Grupo GILA. That turtle was wearing a satellite transmitter, which they got back for us! We’ve got our fingers crossed that the same thing will happen with Red Rockette.

These beaches are in remote areas of these countries, some accessible just by boat and others without easy access to Internet or phones. We want to make sure that the local environmental groups and local community members know to look for our leatherback on the beach.

Again, the international sea turtle community is swinging into gear: scientists, environmental groups, government biologists, and local people in areas near the nesting beaches are all helping out. I can’t say enough good things about how helpful sea turtle people are.

At this point we don’t know when or where specifically Red Rockette will nest. “We don’t have a good understanding of pre-nesting behaviour,” explains Canadian sea turtle expert, Dr. Mike James. “Right now Red Rockette is swimming quickly and purposefully. She may slow down soon and stop just off her beach. But, it’s very early in the nesting season still. It could be a few weeks before she begins nesting…or it could be much sooner.”

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Week 15: A comparison

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It is cold today in Halifax- really cold. The current temperature is around -23 C with the wind-chill, and is expected to fall to -29 C tonight. All of us who have to brave freezing cold temperatures this week in Canada and the US Northeast and Midwest are likely a little envious of Inspire, Lily Rose, and Red Rocket’s current position.
As a comparison, the water temperature in Halifax Harbour is currently 4 C, with a freezing spray warning in effect. The surface temperature of the Caribbean Sea today? A lovely 27 C!

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