The oceans are a massive place, and scientists are still discovering some of the very basic facts of life for many marine creatures. Take the loggerhead sea turtle — until this month, scientists weren’t sure where young loggerheads went during the first few years of their life. But with the help of tiny transmitters, researchers recently discovered where young loggerhead sea turtles journey during these mysterious “lost years.”
“What is exciting is that we provide the first look at the early behavior and movements of young sea turtles in the wild,” said lead scientist Kate Mansfield, a biologist at the University of Central Florida, in a press release.
A team of researchers from Florida and Wisconsin glued solar-powered satellite transmitters to the shells of 17 young sea turtles, tracking them across the Atlantic for several months. These tiny transmitters sent information about the turtles’ location and the surrounding water temperature.
Previous studies suggested that young loggerheads spend several years riding the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, a large ocean current that flows clockwise around the Atlantic Ocean. But the trackers revealed that the young sea turtles occasionally dropped out of the current into the middle of the Atlantic, known as the Sargasso Sea.
The scientists also found out that the turtles tend to travel in areas with sargassum — a type of seaweed — that are also warm, which possibly aids the turtle’s growth and development. This discovery will improve our ability to predict where sea turtles go using ocean temperature alone.
This research will help scientists and conservationists better protect loggerhead sea turtles, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act. One of just seven species of sea turtle in the world, loggerheads are threatened by loss of beach nesting habitat and capture in fishing gear. Improved knowledge of where young loggerheads travel will help us understand how to best minimize the threats that we impose on their lives from activities like fishing, recreational boating, pollution, and climate change.