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 and ways to attach the tags. In between these two challenges, we have to keep the turtles healthy and well fed. Over the past several seasons we developed a series of diets, specific to each species of sea turtle studied; we make these foods in our lab kitchen. Visitors to our lab stare down at us as we work. They often ask about what we are making as we drop a handful of greens and fish to a blender full of turtle food pellets. When we adding vitamins and minerals, apparently it looks as if they are essential seasonings, we are asked if we are adding salt (!). Our response of “green turtle food” and, “no they get plenty of salt in the water” often leads us to many quite interesting conversations. When the discussions wander into where small sea turtles live at sea and what they eat and drink, we are getting to the core of major questions that are fundamental to sea turtle conservation. Are their routes and habitats safe or risky? Are the waters clean and rich in food? These are common questions with surprisingly few answers.
The neonate green turtles are in our lab while we develop ways to safely tag them and test that the tags are not harmful before their release. Once we have those methods set, then those turtles get to helps us answer some of those questions (and likely we will tell a few more interesting stories about our connections to marine life on the high seas).