Back in June, the ERI, collaborating with the Oceanic Society with funding from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and support from Belize Fisheries Department and UB students, carried out a baseline study of sea turtle distribution and abundance conducted at the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve (TAMR).
The effort resulted in 86 turtle sightings of which 17 were captured, measured, tagged and released. Among the 17 captured was a female loggerhead (Caretta caretta). On June 13 it was captured on the fore reef area near Crawl Caye and it was documented as the largest turtle and was also the sole capture of its specie.
The loggerhead was tagged on both flippers with Belize coded tags reading BZ1319 on the right flipper and BZ1320 on the left. Tags were provided by the Belize Fisheries Department. The turtle was weighed in at approximately 86 kg with a straight carapace length of 88.7 cm. Due to its large size, the team only managed to get shell measurements and weight.
On Monday, 29th July 2013, personnel from Flora Fauna Y Cultura de Mexico A.C passed information indicating that a loggerhead turtle, matching our tags was detected in their area. On July 25, the loggerhead was observed nesting on a beach near the Xel-ha area in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The same turtle tagged in June had travelled 300km. According to Mexican biologists, this particular turtle is a new recruit to the nesting population at Xel-ha and laid over 100 eggs.
Although this kind of traveling behaviour has been hypothesized in the past, this is the first record of a tagged sea turtle captured foraging in Belizean waters and later observed nesting on a Mexican beach. This suggests that the Turneffe Atoll serves as a foraging ground to sea turtles nesting in Mexico and probably other countries in the region. It also highlights the importance for regional collaboration in continuing the present efforts of in-water surveys and beach monitoring, among others.
Special thanks to our friends at “Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico A.C”, the Belize Sea Turtle Conservation Network, Linda Searle (Ecomar), Isaias Majil (Fisheries Department) and Kirah Forman (Hol Chan Marine Reserve) for communicating this finding.