Please select your home edition
Sailing Holidays 2019 - TOP

The story of Motherload the turtle, continued

by NOAA Fisheries 26 Jun 2019 10:41 UTC
Motherload and other adult turtles basking on Trig Island. © NOAA Fisheries / Lindsey Bull

Each spring, NOAA's Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment and Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Programs begin a flurry of activity as they prepare for the deployment of their field researchers to the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The field research teams look forward to the rare opportunity to study these unique sea turtle and monk seal populations in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

This year, turtle researchers Marylou Staman, Leah Kerschner, and Christina Coppenrath had one more reason to look forward to their field season at French Frigate Shoals: to reconnect with a turtle that traveled over 600 miles from O'ahu to lay her eggs.

NOAA's Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program typically waits to encounter nesting turtles during the field season in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but this year, they wanted to track a female's migration from the main Hawaiian Islands up to French Frigate Shoals. They wanted to see if they could document how turtles respond to the loss of East Island, their main nesting island in the Hawaiian Archipelago, after Hurricane Walaka hit French Frigate Shoals last October.

In March, the turtle researchers used an ultrasound machine to find a fertile female among the green sea turtles basking on O'ahu's North Shore. They attached a satellite transmitter and etched "OA48" on her shell, nicknamed her "Motherload," and monitored her migration north from O'ahu into the monument. The field team prepared for the field season even more eager than usual — ready to follow Motherload up to her nesting habitat in French Frigate Shoals.

After arriving at French Frigate Shoals in mid-May, the team used small motorboats to patrol the atoll's ten islets, hoping to catch a glimpse of Motherload. Finally, on May 24th, Motherload found them! She approached the team and swam directly under their boat as they were floating off Trig Island. They could see that she and her satellite tag were in good shape. A few days later, Motherload was observed again, basking (resting) among a pile of turtles on Trig Island.

But the real treat came the next night at 10 p.m., when researchers patrolling the beaches of Tern Island saw her digging a nest chamber. There, she laid 85 eggs. The team placed a tiny temperature-logging device among her eggs so they could monitor the nest and record if this clutch was successful.

Because sea turtles lay multiple nests per season, turtle researchers will spend the next three months monitoring each clutch Motherload lays. They will also track her movements around the atoll until she returns home to the North Shore of O'ahu. On June 12, Motherload was spotted at Tern laying eggs again. Christina was able to count the number of eggs and deploy a temperature data logger in the nest.

NOAA's researchers were encouraged to see her nesting on Tern Island, but are still concerned about the loss of nesting habitat for turtles at French Frigate Shoals. Trig Island, for example, was historically an ecologically important islet for both green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, but was completely washed away in 2018 and now barely breaks the surface at low tide.

By tracking Motherload's movements around Trig Island each day, researchers hope to better understand how sea turtles can acclimate to changes in their environment. This understanding will help us predict how they might adapt in the future to ecosystems drastically altered by climate change.

Related Articles

Investigation of gray whale strandings continues
California survey counts migrating whales for a new population assessment Gray whales have begun their annual southbound migration along the West Coast to Mexico. Science teams continue to investigate the cause of more than 200 strandings of dead and often thin gray whales during their northbound migration last spring. Posted on 26 Jan
Little relief in the deep for heat-stressed corals
New research shows coral reefs in deeper water aren't immune to warming seas and coral bleaching A team of NOAA scientists recently examined more than a thousand hot water events on coral reefs across the Pacific Ocean. Posted on 16 Jan
How to help free entangled whales in Hawaii
Course helps to better assist trained responders disentangle large whales Entanglement in ropes, nets, and other marine debris is a major threat to the humpbacks and other large whales of Hawaii. But attempting to free an entangled, multi-ton whale is inherently dangerous. Posted on 16 Jan
Introducing Pacific Islands feature stories 2019
A recent study used machine learning to examine vocalizations of false killer whale populations Over the past decade, researchers have determined that false killer whales around the Hawaiian Islands have three distinct populations, one of which is endangered. Posted on 13 Jan
Announcing Mission: Iconic Reefs
A large-scale coral reef restoration effort in the Florida Keys I'm excited to let you know that NOAA Fisheries, along with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and other partners, have launched a coral reef restoration effort titled Mission: Iconic Reefs. Posted on 12 Jan
Pacific Islands Must-Reads of 2019
The 10 stories that resonated the most with readers In 2019, we brought you science and conservation stories covering a wide range of topics important to the Pacific Islands region. Posted on 12 Jan
Top photos of 2019 from NOAA Fisheries
The longest-running ocean monitoring program on the planet Those of us fortunate enough to live on the West Coast know that the Pacific Ocean changes constantly, with dramatic effects on our weather, fisheries, and species from sardines to sharks that populate the California Current Ecosystem. Posted on 11 Jan
Top photos of 2019 from NOAA Fisheries
Five most liked Instagram photos of 2019 A very large flatfish, flying squid, and grumpy lumpfish are among our five most liked Instagram photos of 2019. Posted on 22 Dec 2019
Resilient New England Coral
The northern star coral is uniquely able to live in a variety of environments and climates The northern star coral is uniquely able to live in a variety of environments and climates, including New England. The secrets of its adaptability may help tropical coral reefs. Posted on 21 Dec 2019
Your favorite features of 2019
See our list of the top 5 feature stories of 2019 Sharks, sea turtles, and whales—oh my! See our list of the top 5 feature stories of 2019. Posted on 21 Dec 2019
Yalikavak Marina 30% off FooteriSails 2020 - Spinnaker Spring Discount - FOOTERSailing Holidays 2019 - BOTTOM