The lifecycle of sea turtles includes a longstanding mystery, often called the “lost years”. Turtles hatching from nests along Florida’s Atlantic coast head into the ocean and are generally not seen again for several years before they return in their adolescence. Very little is known about where they spend this time in the open ocean.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida have learned that green turtles as well as loggerhead turtles – both iconic species in conservation efforts – may be spending their youth in the legendary Sargasso Sea. The Sargasso Sea is located off the east coast of the U.S. in the North Atlantic Ocean. It has frequently been featured in popular culture, such as in the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, as a place where ships could be trapped in thick mats of floating, brown Sargassum seaweed for which the sea is named.
The researchers tracked the baby turtles by attaching advanced, solar-powered tracking devices, about an inch long, to their shells. They used a special adhesive that held the devices to the turtle shells but would allow the devices to fall off after a few months causing no harm to the turtles or inhibiting shell growth or behavior.
It was previously thought that baby turtles would passively drift in sea currents and simply ride those currents until their later juvenile years. The new research shows that the turtles actively orient to go into the Sargasso Sea.
Studies of where turtles go as they develop are fundamental to sound sea turtle conservation. If we don’t know where turtles are and what parts of the ocean are important to them, we are doing conservation blindfolded.
Legendary Sargasso Sea May be Sea Turtles’ Destination during Mysterious ‘Lost Years’
Photo, posted October 23, 2016, courtesy of Kris-Mikael Krister via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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