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Using Real Time GPS Trackers to Track the Behavior of Sea Turtles in the Bahamas

Posted by Fee Smulders on Jan 24th 2020

Follow-up turtle spy cameras on the Bahamas

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Next up was Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas. Here, we wanted to deploy cameras on sea turtles to look at grazing behaviour and predator interactions. Turtle predators such as tiger sharks are more abundant in the Bahamas compared to the Dutch Caribbean, and therefore we are interested in how this impacts turtle grazing behavior. However, on Bonaire, we were unsuccessful in finding our cameratags back. So we had to search for an alternative way of retrieving our cameratags, after they are automatically released from the turtle. We decided to try out GPS trackers, bought at Spy Spot Investigations in Miami.

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We had one morning in Miami in transit to Eleuthera and very very last-minute managed to buy the trackers. Then we had to reshape our cameratag-design to fit the tracker and for the device to fit on smaller turtles. We bought local simcards on Eleuthera and hoped that this method would provide us with real time locations of the package

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The resort The other side at Bottom harbour kindly let us use their dock to capture turtles and attach the camera devices to their carapaces. The cameratag including the GPS tracker in custom-made waterproof yellow packaging is shown on the left.

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The next morning, we used the app provided with the GPS tracker to locate the floating package. We saw the trajectory, and where it washed ashore. This way, by boat, we could easily retrieve the cameratag the next day. This was way easier than our previous method, and we managed to deploy and retrieve 5 more cameras during our week on Eleuthera. On the camera footage, we saw turtles grazing on seagrass in various habitats: this data is very valuable to us and will be analyzed further. Additionally, we want to try out this new method on Bonaire as well and hope to increase our sample size.

We had memorable field week filled with trial and error, long hours and nightly boat rides, but overall we are very happy with our results, thanks to this great team!

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And then sadly it was time to leave the island again! Eleuthera was an amazing experience, the island is beautiful and it’s very nice to compare the seagrass ecosystem here to the one on Bonaire. We learned a lot and go back with lots of data to be analyzed at Wageningen University and research. Stay tuned for updates.

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