Tuesday, April 25, 2017

UVI and the VI Sea Turtle Project Document Their 100th Turtle

Sometimes a number is just a number and sometimes, just sometimes, a number is a milestone. On April 19, 2017 the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Center for Marine and Environmental Science and the VI Sea Turtle Project (VISTP) documented their 100th sea turtle hitting a major milestone. 

Members of UVI Marine Science and the VI Sea Turtle Projet celebrate the 100th documented turtle.
 All work is conducted pursuant to a NMFS permit
"When we started tagging and documenting sea turtles in the fall of 2014, Dr. Paul Jobsis and I estimated the number of turtles using Brewer's Bay and Hawksbill Cove to be around 40-50 turtles, at most," Scott Eanes said. "The estimation was based off of previous research by Dr. Jobsis and Kemit Amon Lewis, but almost three years later, we were really wrong, and we couldn't be happier." 
Eanes, founder of VI Sea Turtle Project, is best known for naming the bay south of the runway, Hawksbill Cove. He and Dr. Jobsis started tagging turtles in 2014 as part of Scott's master of arts thesis and they haven't looked back. 
Scott and Kate Eanes from the VI Sea Turtle Project
with the first turtle documented back in September
2014. All work is conducted pursuant to a NMFS
"Every turtle we documented is measured , weighed,  receives a series of identification tags and a small genetic sample is taken," Dr. Jobsis said. "This allows us to know how fast our turtles are growing, how many we have, how they are using the bays, and possibly, where our turtles are from in the Caribbean." Jobsis continued, " It also means that when these turtles reach adulthood and leave the USVI they have a greater chance of being identified, wherever they go next."

The US Virgin Islands has two year-round resident sea turtles species that use the numerous bays and inlets: one is the threatened Green Sea turtle and the other is the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle. St. Croix has the bulk of nesting activity with St. Thomas and St. John recording very few nesting female turtles. This means the juvenile turtles most frequently seen by tourist, snorkelers and divers around St. Thomas and St. John more than likely originate from other Caribbean islands, Central America, Florida and possibly Brazil. One of the joint research project goals is to discover the origin of the turtles using Brewer's Bay and Hawksbill Cove.
"This has been a long difficult road only accomplished through a lot of hard work and teamwork. Scott's passion and commitment to understanding and protecting sea turtles has been crucial to our success."
- Dr. Paul Jobsis, UVI Center for Marine and Environmental Science

"We need to find out where our turtles are coming from because each week we are out there we see untagged turtles, and it would be great to know where our turtles come from so we can make sure they get a home to nest, ensuring the next generation of turtles in the USV," Eanes said. "And as we see more turtles we still haven't documented, it makes you wonder just how many turtles call these two bays home. If you love sea turtles this is really an exciting location to study."
The research team from UVI and the VI Sea Turtle Project would also like to remind the general public that this research is permitted through the National Marine Fisheries Services and it is against the law to harass, touch, or retain sea turtles without the required permits. UVI and the VISTP plan to continue their research through 2019.