Where do tiny turtles go?

  • Turtles
Years funded
  • 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
  • Archived
Project type
  • Research

Sea turtles need a safe place to live during each of their life stages. To protect them, we need to know where they go. Jeanette has spent years learning how to tag hatchlings of different turtle species to discover their early travel destinations.

Where do tiny turtles go?

Jeanette Wyneken

Project leader
About the project leader

Every scientist has a defining moment in their life that led them to their career. For me that moment came when I was about four years old. I was fascinated by dinosaurs. The wonderful plastic models with the Latin names embossed on their bellies kept my attention for many days and nights. After a few months, I announced to my mother that I wanted a pet dinosaur. Sadly, that was not to be. I learned the term ‘extinct’, that some things were gone forever, and that there were things so old that even my grandparents had never seen them.

I also...

Related Blogs
By Jeanette Wyneken, 20th August 2015
Watching the turtles leave
We attach very small satellite tracking devices, or tags, to neonate sea turtles to find out where their nursery areas are. Once we have devised a satisfactory way to attach the tags, we take the young turtles out to sea, release them and field-test the…
By Jeanette Wyneken, 15th April 2015
Getting e-mails from turtles
To conserve marine animals, we need to understand what they require in terms of habitat. In other words, it is important to know where the animal goes, why it goes there and how it selects optimal habitats at different times and in different places, so…
By Jeanette Wyneken, 28th November 2014
Understanding pelagic
Some animals live on land and others live fully in the water. That’s something that people know and understand. The idea that an animal born at sea spends its entire life at sea is easy to comprehend. These animals are pelagic. But when an animal…
By Jeanette Wyneken, 23rd August 2013
Turtles leads
Each project starts with observations, questions, and a bit of sleuthing, more observation, answering the questions, asking more questions, and so on as we figure out just how we will solve the project’s challenges. Usually working with the turtles is the easy part and the…
By Jeanette Wyneken, 2nd December 2011
A day at the turtle lab
The challenges we face in developing ways to track young sea turtles offshore (then tracking their travels) are are varied as as the weather. We start with protecting the nests from predators and inclement weather, then collecting the turtles we need for testing different tags…
By Jeanette Wyneken, 20th October 2011
Turtle season
Even the smallest satellite tags that we use for our neonate sea turtles are too large for hatchlings. So, the neonate green turtles, caught at the nest, grow in our laboratory for several months before we test various ways to attach the tags. These turtles…
By Jeanette Wyneken, 13th June 2011
Saving Sea Turtles
Saving sea turtles starts with the fundamentals. What are the risks? Where do they occur? What turtles are vulnerable? These sound like simple questions, but they are tough to answer where the turtles spend 99.9% of their lives — in the water, often far from…
Project details

Tracking neonate sea turtles, discovering the offshore homes: leatherbacks with comparisons to flatbacks

Key objective

Laboratory and field-testing of small-scale, solar-panelled satellite tags on post-hatchling sea turtles to increase our understanding of their habitat selection and offshore movements.

Why is this important

Recovery of sea turtles requires an understanding of their spatial distributions, potential threats and life stage-specific survival, as well as identification of important nursery habitats. But the early life histories of neonate sea turtles remain poorly understood because of technological limitations. This project will develop methods for tagging young turtles to help close this knowledge gap.


The coast of Florida provides a rookery for several marine turtle species, and it hosts one of the world’s largest nesting assemblages of loggerhead sea turtles as well as significant numbers of nesting green and leatherback turtles. Proximity of these sea turtle rookeries to the Gulf Stream current effects environmental conditions in their nests and influences the dispersal options for neonate turtles leaving the beach. However, the early life histories of neonate sea turtles are poorly understood because of technological limitations, that is, the lack of small-scale tracking technologies capable of remotely recording the animals’ positions for days, weeks or months. Yet species recovery requires an understanding of spatial distributions, potential threats and life stage-specific survival, as well as identification of important nursery habitats.

With our recent success in tracking neonate loggerhead turtles for one to seven months we developed a baseline approach that demonstrated the efficacy of such tracking. This study will develop essential tag attachment methods for green turtle neonates and field-test small-scale, solar-panelled satellite tags on post-hatchling sea turtles.

Aims & objectives

The aims and objectives of this project are to:

  • Develop and test methods for attaching a small-scale telemetry device (satellite tag) to green turtles.
  • Field-test these tags on tank-reared neonate turtles and, if feasible, wild-caught sea turtles.
  • Identify and characterise key post-hatching nursery habitats, including oceanographic features that may influence dispersal, which are largely unknown for green turtles.
  • Identify hazards and risks likely encountered by at these young sea turtle life stages.
  • Communicate our results to the scientific community through peer-reviewed publications, oral and poster presentations, and educational and photographic outreach.