Sea turtles undertake a tremendous migration that can cross the Atlantic ocean twice.
Sea Turtles of The Azores
Five of the seven sea turtle species occurring world-wide have been found in the Azores. The commonest species is the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta). The Green Leatherback, the Hawsbill and Kemp’s Ridley have also been recorded from the waters around archipelago.
After hatching on nesting beaches around the Caribbean Sea, the turtles spend their lives adrift on the great ocean currents circling the mid-Atlantic Ocean.
Life Cycle of the Loggerhead Turtle
Through work involving tagging and measuring of individuals, it has been possible to study the migrations of Loggerhead Turtles in the north Atlantic. These studies were carried out by the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries of the University of the Azores, in close collaboration with the Archie Carr Centre for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida. It is now known that after hatching on the beaches of the south-east United States, Loggerhead Turtles undertake a migration that takes them to the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands, where they remain for about ten years before returning to their nest beaches.
Turtles in Danger
All sea turtles are classified as “Threatened species”. These prehistoric creatures, which existed already at the time of the dinosaurs, face many dangers in today’s world. In their oceanic phase, one of the greatest threats is floating rubbish. Unfortunately, these animals are unable to distinguish flotsam such as plastid, polystyrene or tar from their natural prey (jellyfish) and often try to ingest them. Such items frequently block the digestive tract of turtles and cause their death. Discarded fishing line, cord and plastic rings represent further dangers to turtles, which may become entangled and drown. Accidental capture by fishermen represents a further risk to turtles. Various studies are currently being carried out to assess this problem and to implement measures to reduce this cause of mortality.
The tag on each individual allows it to be identified when subsequently recaptured, providing information on its migration and growth. The first Atlantic crossing of a Loggerhead Turtle was documented in Cuba in 1994, with other recaptures following in North Carolina, Nicaragua and Florida. The tagging programme continues to expand. Up to the year 2000, about 2000 turtles had been captured, tagged, measured and released, thanks to the collaboration of fishermen, whale-watching companies, and other supporters. You can also contribute to the study and conservation of these creatures. If you find a turtle, contact us!
This information was prepared by scientists from the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries at the University of the Azores.