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Jul 4, 2018

Maje, the Hawksbill Turtle, is Tagged

Sea turtles are a valuable part of marine ecosystems because they help to preserve sea grass beds which are important for shelter and resource to many other sea organisms.  But the reality is that sea turtles all over the world are threatened, particularly the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, which has been listed as critically endangered with a decreasing population.  The Hawksbill is protected by law in Belize and coupled with a number of initiatives to safeguard the species; Belize has a thriving population of the sea turtle.  One organization that is doing turtle conservation is the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary.  Since the 1990’s, they have been working to protect turtle eggs and study the species. The sanctuary has partnered with a non-profit called Hawksbill Hope and Marymount University of the U.S.A to track their migration patterns.  Today, Reporter Andrea Polanco and Videographer Chris Mangar travelled to Gales Point Village and file this report.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Meet Maje the Hawksbill Turtle. She is estimated to be about thirty to thirty five years old and weighs one hundred and twenty five pounds. She was discovered along the beach in Gales Point Manatee. Today she is resting on the Manatee Bar Beach and getting ready to go into the Caribbean Sea – it is a journey that will be tracked with this little tracking device. This small piece of technology, worth a couple thousand dollars, will be transmitting valuable information for conservationists and researchers to monitor this critically endangered species.


Kevin Andrewin

Kevin Andrewin, Chairman, Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary

“We are tagging these turtles to get data on their migration patterns; to see how far they will go and to see if they go in different countries because you know they are critically endangered. And so we learn about their clutch size and if they go in other countries and don’t return to our beach, we will not have turtles for future generation.”


And to get that valuable information, this device is secured on top of Maje’s shell which will help to provide data for over two years. It is a simple and easy and no turtles are harmed during the process.  One person holds the turtle in place, while the satellite tag affixed with a marine based epoxy. Once that dries for a couple of minutes, another layer is applied to firmly secure the tag.  And so that Maje’s journey can be tracked online – a tag is placed under the folds of skin in her neck so that a number is generated and she can be identified.  Doctor Todd Rimkus of Marymount University in the U.S.A explains how it all works.


Todd Rimkus

Dr. Todd Rimkus, Chair of Biology & Physical Science Dept., Marymount University

“We send her off with the satellite tag. The satellite tag is then communicating with satellites up in the sky and positioning her and telling about her migration patterns; her resting locations and where she might nest again for the second, third of fourth time this summer.”


Andrea Polanco

“So the tag picks up data once she comes up for air? How does it work?”


Dr. Todd Rimkus

“Every single time she comes up for a breath, very quickly the tag dries and when a switch is then open and it turns on the tag and the tag sends all of its data up to the satellites for the past time that she has been underneath the water and it gives her location up to that point. Once she submerges again, it goes off until she comes back up for the next breath.”


Maje is the second Hawksbill found along this stretch of beach in Gales Point Manatee Village this week.  While it faces the threat of becoming extinct – it is reported that this beach has the highest concentration of nests and biggest population of the Hawksbill Turtle in all of Belize and the Caribbean – thanks to the conservation efforts that started way back in 1990. These are just two of the six nests Andrewin and his team are monitoring and protecting.


Kevin Andrewin

“If you find a body pit where you think they lay a nest, you have to look first if you find the eggs. If you find the eggs, then you use the wire mesh and you cover it. And then you try to back date it. If you don’t find it the exact time it lay, you could assume more or less if it is a month or few weeks by looking at the eggs. If it is Hawksbill, you give it like sixty days to hatch and after those sixty days you go back and count all the entire eggs after they hatch to get the accurate clutch size. Now, a Hawksbill can lay anything between one hundred and seventy-five to one hundred and eighty eggs. The clutch size could almost tell you the age of the turtle. What you have to do is the crawl width, you do the tide distant to see how far it goes back and backdate the date and after they hatch you have a hatchling data sheet and if all the eggs don’t hatch you will have to open the other one to see why they didn’t hatch.”


But the Hawksbill Turtles in Belize have friends all the way in the U.S.A – including The Marymount University. The school has been working with the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary for over a decade. Every year, Dr. Rimkus brings students to do field work in the village as a part of their academic studies. Mary Ellen Haas, a Biology student, shares her experience.


Mary Ellen Haas

Mary Ellen Haas, Student, Marymount University

“Working with the turtles has been particularly incredible. Kevin has been teaching us how to identify nests, the tracks and how to take measurements and data. It has been a tremendous experience and we’ve greatly enjoyed it.   On my own, I have personally done some research in Dr. Rimkus’ lab as part of our honors program and I know that he has a fascination with turtles and the whole Marymount Community does as well. So, this is part of that and we bring that when we come here. Studying the Hawksbill Turtle, in particular, is very close to our hearts because it is critically endangered and so we are enthusiastic and excited about doing our best to help preserve the species.”


For many years, sea turtles like Maje faced a number of threats here in Gales Point Manatee and across the country. They were being eaten, their shells used for jewelry, their habitats destroyed and at times they were victims of gillnets.  But once the Hawksbill was protected by law – and educational awareness was raised among villagers – the community, including resident Austin Myers, started to see the value in these creatures.


Austin Myers

Austin Myers, Resident, Gales Point Manatee

“To protect the Hawksbill now is very great to protect it because we have guests coming from very far, from the United States to protect it. We the ones in the Gales Point Village learn a lot from the people and we make money from it.”


Andrea Polanco

“So, it is also creating jobs – an income for you guys?”


Austin Myers

“Jobs. Yeah, it also creates lots of jobs for us in the summer time.”


And so Maje marks the twelfth turtle to be tagged by Dr. Rimkus and the Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary – but approximately twenty-seven tagged across the country – and as Dr. Rimkus explains – the data gathered over the past decade is helping these sea turtles thrive in Belize.


Dr. Todd Rimkus

“The data that we are collecting is fantastic. It is showing wonderful patterns of migrations and where all the turtles are finding really nice places to hang out right off the shores and near the reef and great feeding locations. And so Fisheries and Mr. Gongora – they have been fantastic in getting us our permits and letting us allow them to have a look at that data to help influence how fishing and shrimping happens in Belize to protect those turtles to make sure that they are not getting snagged up in those nets.”


And so today – the students gathered on the beach – to see Maje make her way into the Caribbean Sea. And while they don’t know when they will see her again – they will know exactly where she is traveling to – where she is resting and where she is laying her eggs – thanks to this satellite tag everything will be logged online. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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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