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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Confirmed feasibility of the satellite tracker attachment method on small juvenile hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Rebecca L. Diggins*, Jessica Grimm, Diana Mendez, Karina Jones, Mark Hamann, Ian Bell, Ellen Ariel

*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 months), 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.