Sea turtle research in Belize is largely limited to irregular surveys of in-water foraging habitats and nesting beaches; factors such as abundance, habitat use, connectivity, and threats and impacts have been assessed systematically in only a few cases. To establish a baseline of sea turtle distribution and abundance around Turneffe Atoll, Oceanic Society and the University of Belize's Environmental Research Institute collaborated on a comprehensive baseline study of sea turtles at Turneffe. The objectives of this project were to 1) execute a circum-atoll visualization survey using trained and supervised volunteer snorkelers to assess abundance and behaviors of turtles in different habitat types, 2) capture turtles by hand when possible to collect biometric information and tag individual turtles to establish a long-term capture-mark-recapture program, and 3) create maps and a report of sea turtle distribution and abundance at Turneffe Atoll for national and local resource managers.
During the week of June 8-15, 2013, we conducted in-water snorkeling visualization transects and free diving capture of sea turtles at 17 different sites around Turneffe Atol. We obtained 86 total sightings during surveys of three different sea turtle species: hawksbills (60 sightings), greens (17 sightings), and loggerheads (8 sightings) (note: species unidentified for one animal). We also captured 15 juvenile hawksbills, one juvenile green, and one adult female loggerhead. We collected information about depth and behaviors observed when animals were sighted, and recorded measurements of body size, weight, and unique physical characteristics, applied unique ID tags, and obtained tissue samples for future genetic analyses from animals that were captured.
This collaborative effort between our organizations was the first comprehensive study of sea turtles at Turneffe Atoll, and among the first such projects in Belize. We hope to build on the success of this effort in future projects to study turtle habitat use, behaviors, and movements at Turneffe and throughout Belize, and to understand patterns of connectivity throughout the Wider Caribbean.
Project 12254444 location - Belize, North America