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Tracking Baby Sea Turtles

Tue, 2014-09-02 15:44 -- llancaster

A rare glimpse into the "lost years".
Originally published: 
Sep 2 2014 - 3:15pm
By: 
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- The moment a sea turtle is born, the odds are stacked against it.

It must immediately find its way across the beach to the ocean where it swims out to sea only to come back more than two decades later to lay eggs of its own. But, only one in a thousand sea turtle hatchlings will survive that first journey and the following years as an infant in the ocean. Those early years are called "the lost years".

Now, for the first time, scientists are getting a rare glimpse into the young, perilous lives of sea turtles.

“It’s really important to understand what they do," said Kate Mansfield, a marine scientist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “This is the first time the little turtles have been tracked."

Adult sea turtles have been tracked for years. But traditional tracking devices don't attach well to hatchlings. So Mansfield came up with her own way of sticking trackers on baby turtles.

“We used a combination of hair extension glue, nail acrylic, old wet suits and some aquarium silicone," explained Mansfield.

The solar-powered satellite-tracking tag attaches to the shells of young turtles.

Researchers thought the turtles would stay in the ocean's outer currents once they reached the sea. Instead, many hatchlings actually swam out of the currents and went to an area known for its brown floating algae.

Mansfield said, “There might be food, there’s refuge, they sit on top of the algae so predators underneath can’t see them.”

The information helps researchers work to improve the turtles' environment and provide better protection in the hope that more young turtles will survive and lay eggs.


Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California. She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

Get Inside The Science:

Sea Turtles' "Lost Years" Transatlantic Journey Mapped for First Time

Marine Turtle Research Group at the University of Central Florida

Kate Mansfield, University of Central Florida

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