Luna the Brave Sea Turtle Is Helping Conservationists!
Just off Goodland, around the feeding grounds of Ten Thousand Islands, Luna the loggerhead sea turtle dipped beneath the ocean surface Thursday afternoon and was released into the wild.
The 2-year-old turtle served as an ambassador for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida for most of her marine life, welcoming guests and school field trips to the Conservancy's discovery center. The Conservancy, which has been using loggerheads to help educate its visitors for about 20 years, releases the turtles once they are big enough to survive on their own in the gulf
But little is known about what happens to these released turtles, or where they go once released. They have always been tagged on their flippers, but so far only ONE of the Conservancy's ambassador turtles has been found again, swimming in the Florida Keys 28 days after it was released..
For the very first time, researchers have attached a radio transmitter to Luna's shell to get a better idea of how she fares and whether she will stay in the Ten Thousand Islands or migrate to the Keys or into the open Gulf. Researchers are eager to see if Luna will join with other migrating sea turtles or take the adventure alone.
"It's always interesting to deploy these transmitters; there are always surprises," Conservancy environmental research manager Jeff Schmid said. "We know the Ten Thousand Islands are an important area for feeding. The thought is if they're released in a foraging area they should have what they need to live. That's the big question, will Luna stay or move?"
The Conservancy plans to create a page online that will keep real-time updates of where Luna travels.
The transmitter was fashioned to the back of Luna's shell, which isn't anywhere close to done growing yet. Eventually, the shell will expand to the point that the radio transmitter falls off, or Luna will shove herself into a rocky bottom and damage the radio or knock it loose, Schmid said.
He said he would be pretty thrilled if they get up to six months or a little more with the transmitter. Schmid clearly has Luna and the Loggerhead's interest in mind.
"Normally we only have a release point and end point," Schmid said. "We don’t know what the turtle was doing in between and that’s what we hope to learn."
Loggerheads are federally listed as a threatened species, a step from endangered. The long-lived turtles don't reach sexual maturity until they are about 35 years old. The females lay their eggs under the sand along beaches throughout southern Florida. When the young turtles hatch they follow the light of the stars and night sky to the open water, where they spend most of their lives. Supporting these beautiful creatures wouldn't be possible without heroes like Luna the Brave Sea Turtle.