Tweeting Mediterranean Loggerhead turtles as oceanographers
Loggerhead turtle around Balearic Islands are equipped with Argos satellite tracking tags. Their data are used as oceanographic data source, and they also can be followed in real-time on Twitter, as a mean of raising awareness on the threats to this wildlife species and the way of helping protecting them.
Argos tracking map of two turtles (Source SOCIB)
The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is one of the seven species of marine turtle worldwide, and the most common species found around Spain, Canary Islands and Balearic Islands. Around Balearic Islands, they are mostly coming from a Northwest Atlantic nesting population, meaning they were born on some beaches of the east coast of the USA or Caribbean island, and had passively migrated with the current with sargassum, driftwood etc., and ending up on the other side of the Atlantic, and then entering the Mediterranean. Around the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands these turtles find an extraordinary foraging habitat to which they contribute forming a small “oasis” of biomass aggregation in the middle of the open ocean “Serengeti”. However, as everywhere in the ocean, the loggerhead turtles are threatened by fishing nets, plastic (especially plastic bags) and other pollution; their back can be damaged by collision with a boat, etc., thus the need to implement such a wildlife tracking.
The “Oceanographic Turtles” project aims to provide the scientific basis to support the development of risk mitigation techniques based on new ocean observing and forecasting systems and contribute to the conservation of marine turtles. The project addresses the role of operational ecology in the dynamic ocean management using the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in the western Mediterranean Sea as case study.
Oceanographic Turtles project. Animal-borne sensors collect information about sea temperature and send the information throughout the Argos System. Source: SOCIB.
When an Argos PTT satellite transmitter is deployed, turtles become “oceanographers of opportunity”. Every time the turtles surface to breath or bask, their tag transmits a signal via satellite to CLS/Argos center then SOCIB, with information on where they are, how deep they are diving, and what temperatures there are at different depths. They also provide with a mean of calibrating the oceanographic readings of gliders, buoys and satellites with the response at a biological level in open ocean ecosystems.
Tweeting turtles. Users can follow the turtles on its own twitter account, follow their track in a web map and chat with them to ask about their status. Source: SOCIB.
Tweeting turtles, part of the Oceanographic Turtles project, is a new application developed by the Balearic Islands Coastal Observing and Forecasting System (SOCIB) to provide an innovative public-inclusive mode of science and foster emotional connections to the marine biodiversity. This new system aims to enhance ocean literacy and raise awareness for ocean conservation using real-time animal tracking data and social networks. Followers of the twitter account @TortugaLasi can now follow in real-time the journey of a loggerhead turtle equipped with an Argos satellite transmitter.
Tweeting Turtles combines state-of-the-art methods from satellite tracking, operational oceanography and machine learning. The application is composed of three main parts: i) a twitter website, which serves as main gateway to the system, ii) a web-map viewer, that displays the trajectory of the turtle together with oceanographic maps, and iii) an intelligent chatbot to assist general public for learning facts about the tracked turtle.
Ocenographic Turtles is a project funded by BBVA Foundation and developed by Balearic Islands Coastal Observing and Forecasting System, Alnitak, the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, Palma Aquarium Foundation, and the Service of Species Protection from the Balearic Islands Government.