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Jul 13, 2017

Yertle the Turtle Contributes to Tracking of Endangered Species

For a few years now turtles are being tagged to track their movements to find out their migration patterns and other valuable information to assist in research and management. A small N.G.O. working with locals in Gales Point Manatee is helping to gather data through satellite technology.  It has been a lucky month for the team because three turtles were caught and tagged.  Today, News Five went to Gales Point Village for the tagging of a Hawksbill called ‘Yertle the Turtle.’ She was found on Wednesday night on a beach where she has a nest.  Today, we found her sitting patiently on the Manatee Bar Beach where she was tagged and set off on her way. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

This is Yertle – a hawksbill turtle – little does she know that her journey for the next two years will be helping turtles like her. This small device – a satellite tag –attached to the top of her shell will be transmitting important information about her movements which will be tracked online and used to strengthen conservation efforts of this endangered species.


Kevin Andrewin

Kevin Andrewin, Chairman, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“What we are doing right now tagging these nesting females to study their migration patterns and also that we have better information to provide for the coming generation.   If there is an area that people are hunting sea turtle and do a lot of poaching, Fisheries will have a better idea because if these turtle are tagged that will give us an idea and if our turtle end up in Guatemala, Honduras and so we know where our turtle go.”


But the steps to get this valuable information are a rather simple and painless process which takes about two and a half hours. One person holds Yertle in place and this small tracking device is attached to the top of her shell with this bottom marine based epoxy. Once it dries for an hour, another layer of marine epoxy is applied on the first base around the device to hold it in place. That dries for another hour. And once that is done; one last step is taken – to ensure that Yertle can be identified as her movements are tracked by this five thousand U.S. dollar device. Leading today’s mission is Doctor Todd Rimkus – professor at University of Marymount in the U.S.A.


Todd Rimkus

Dr. Todd Rimkus, Professor, Marymount University, Arlington, Virginia

“When we get the data from the turtles, it is showing us where the turtles are nesting, where the turtles are resting and foraging and feeing and so it give us, or Fisheries, great information to make management decisions and help protect our waters.  The process will hold that tag on for several years and the tag will transmit data for two years giving us this nesting and resting and foraging data that we need to pass on to fisheries. There is a pit tag so that we can identify her and that will go into the skin right in the scruff of her neck and that is like getting a shot at the doctor for your immunization, so that won’t hurt her much either; maybe a tiny little poke but other than that we are not out here to hurt any sea turtles.”


Yertle the Turtle is about seventy-five-years-old and can live for about seventy-five more years. She weighs over a hundred pounds and is in good health. But her kind – the Hawksbill species are critically endangered – and so they are protected by law. They face a number of threats from poachers to plastic waste, to gill nets – and so this program is helping to strengthen the management of these sea turtles.


Kevin Andrewin

“These turtles are here a long time and we don’t want them to leave us. Their population was going down from 1990 and we used to have about 130 odd turtle but sometimes we only have about thirty nests and so. So, we are trying to protect the nesting female and the nest and study their behavior.  For the Hawksbill population, I could see it looks good. I was worried last year that we got that hurricane and we had six turtles die. One of them which was a green turtle and one was a logger head and the rest was a Hawksbill.  Looking at the record is good because …in capture… not seeing much of them.”


But to ensure that we see more of these sea turtles, Doctor Rimkus started a non-profit Hawksbill Hope back in 2009 to help with the conservation efforts here in Gales Point Village. It is reported that this stretch of beach – Manatee Bar Beach – is where the highest frequency and concentration of Hawksbill is found for the entire Caribbean.


Kevin Andrewin

“This is the largest nesting beach for Belize. It is very important and we have a healthy population of Hawksbill which is a critically endangered species here. So, this whole beach is very important for our country.”


It has attracted students from Marymount University. For the past few weeks students have gotten hands on experience unlike any other.


Anne Raffaelli

Anne Raffaelli, Student, Marymount University

“It has been incredible and I think this group is unique because we have been able to see three turtles which is unusual but really very cool because you get to then be a part of the process and you get more comfortable with it.   I had no experience with this at all prior to coming here and to like know how to stop the turtle and prevent them from going back in the water so that we have the time to tag them – I had no idea how to do that before coming here. I would have been totally afraid to do that and then to identify – five down the middle to the different plates of their shell which is cool because then we know it is the hawksbill; which again, I would have never known prior to coming here.”


Andrea Polanco

“This is your first time here doing this, do you think you would ever return and would you recommend this program to other students at your school?”


Anne Raffaelli

“Absolutely! One hundred percent. I think this is a great way where you get a Biology class where you feel like you are being a part of the subject and a part of the material and you get that hands on learning.”


Dr. Todd Rimkus

“Our students are getting a chance to put their hands on a turtle and really see Science first hand. That experience of actually putting your hands on a turtle will actually live with these kids for the rest of their lives. They will be telling their grandkids about this.”


Kevin Andrewin

“They did well because they called me in the radio and said Kevin we have a turtle and you know they followed the procedure.”


And it was with excitement that the students and team watched Yertle make her journey from the beach into the Caribbean Sea. They are not sure when they will be seeing her again, but they will monitor her every movement – all thanks to the little device. Since she was released around midday, online tracking shows that Yertle has travelled for some seven kilometers. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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