They are here once again. The Kuwait Turtle Conservation Project
(KTCP), sponsored by TOTAL Foundation and TOTAL Kuwait and in cooperation with
the Voluntary Work Center Kuwait and The Scientific Center Kuwait, was on Umm
Al-Maradim island on the 4th of May 2010 witnessing fresh tracks of two
different Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys
imbricata). Like last year, KTCP researchers and volunteers will form a
united and motivated expedition team with the mission of finding those turtles
and carrying out a satellite telemetry project.
Satellite telemetry involves
following an object on the Earth with the use of orbiting satellites.
Researchers use this technology to track the migratory patterns of wild animals
throughout their natural habitats. It is used for terrestrial, as well as
marine animals and it has revealed a great amount of secrets on migratory
avifauna all over the world.
case of sea turtles, satellite telemetry allows researchers to obtain
up-to-date location points every time the sea turtle rises to the surface of
the water for air.
Platform Terminal Transmitter (PTT) is attached to the back of a sea turtle.
The PTT sends a signal full of information to an orbiting satellite. The
satellite then re-transmits the data to a receiving station on Earth.
Researchers can then access this information through a computer.
Satellite transmitters can be
attached several different ways. For hard-shell turtles, such as Green (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbills, which
nest in Kuwait, the Marine Epoxy Method or the Fiberglass and Resin Method are
used. Both methods are safe for the turtles, neither hurting their shells nor inhibiting
their movements in the ocean. Transmitters are designed to safely fall off the
turtles after about a year and a half. Leatherback turtles, which lack a hard
shell, require a different method because of their and the texture of
their carapace (shell). A harness that wraps around the shell is sometimes used
to secure a transmitter. Recently, however, the use of a harness is being
doubted as too stressful for the turtle and inhibitive of its free movements
through the seas and oceans of the planet.
How does satellite telemetry work?
The small, low wattage PTTs
attached to the turtles are controlled by a micro-processor, which is
programmed by a computer before it is attached. The program tells the
micro-processor how to store information and when to transmit the information
to the satellites. Polar orbiting satellites are currently used for tracking
animals. The satellites are operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) and are the same satellites used to monitor global
weather patterns. Attached to these satellites are special instruments operated
by a French company, ARGOS CLS. These special instruments are designed to
listen for transmitters like those we place on turtles and to determine where
those transmitters are located. While such a task would seem simple, it is not.
Each satellite circles the earth every 101 minutes and so it is only over any
one place on the planet for about 10 minutes. At the equator, this means that
the satellites make about 6-8 passes per day for 10 minutes each. For the
satellite to determine the location of the transmitter it takes about 3-5
minutes, and the transmitter must be on the surface to be detected. This means
that a turtle must come up for air for at least 3 minutes to be detected by the
In Kuwait, sea turtles are
scarce both on Garooh and Umm Al-Maradim’s nesting beaches but also in the
water. Finding individuals which would be healthy and suitable for satellite
telemetry has not been easy. Temperature and humidity factors produced
functional problems with the use of a specific type of Epoxy glue, so another,
more heat and humidity tolerant type is to be used this year.
Starting end of May 2010, the
KTCP shall be on the islands again, waiting, determined to help reveal the
whereabouts, habits and migrations as well as many other secrets that the
Kuwait sea turtles have kept for thousands, maybe millions of years.