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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 704:119-130 (2023)  -  DOI:

Confirmed feasibility of a satellite tracker attachment method on small juvenile hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata

Rebecca L. Diggins1,2,*, Jessica Grimm1, Diana Mendez2, Karina Jones3,4, Mark Hamann5, Ian Bell6, Ellen Ariel1

1College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
2Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
3College of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, Townville, Queensland 4811, Australia
4School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150, Australia
5College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Townville, Queensland 4811, Australia
6Aquatic Threatened Species Program, Department of Environment and Science, Townsville, Queensland 4814, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Satellite trackers can be used for studying sea turtle movement, illuminating their migrations and behaviours. However, many studies have focused on adult turtles, with uneven species representation, despite the importance of understanding movement and habitat use of turtles at all life-stages. Furthermore, few publications detail successful satellite tracker attachment methods, particularly for juveniles. Smaller-sized juvenile sea turtles often have an irregularly shaped carapace and are fast growing, rendering the attachment of rigid trackers in a safe and durable manner challenging. Juvenile hawksbill turtles’ specific carapace shape and imbricated scute arrangement further complicate satellite tracker attachment compared to juveniles of other turtle species. This study’s objective was to confirm the feasibility of an attachment method that would allow small-sized juvenile hawksbill turtles (~267-345 mm curved carapace length) to continue growing, without tracker loss or damage to underlying scutes. Replica trackers were made of resin (simulating Wildlife Computer Spot-387 trackers), and attached with epoxy, silicone and neoprene, using a technique modified from those used on neonate loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys. Throughout the study (3.5 mo), replica trackers remained attached, the turtles grew up to 114% heavier and 25% longer, and all turtles appeared clinically healthy and active. Furthermore, all scutes were undamaged after tracker removal. As a critically endangered species, the paucity of data on hawksbill turtles, and specifically juveniles, can hinder evidence-based management decision-making. The improved ability to satellite track juvenile hawksbills can, therefore, help better our understanding of their ecology and inform management and conservation practices for this species.

KEY WORDS: Eretmochelys imbricata · Sea turtle · Satellite tracking · Attachment methodology · Remote sensing

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Cite this article as: Diggins RL, Grimm J, Mendez D, Jones K, Hamann M, Bell I, Ariel E (2023) Confirmed feasibility of a satellite tracker attachment method on small juvenile hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 704:119-130.

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