Isla, the endangered leatherback sea turtle returns to Jupiter Island, Florida!
Jupiter Island, Florida USA, April 24, 2020 – After almost two years and traveling more than 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) Isla, an endangered leatherback sea turtle with a transmitter was once again encountered by researchers on her nesting beach at Jupiter Island, Florida.
“We were so excited to finally encounter Isla again; we have been anxiously awaiting her return since early March” said Kelly Martin a biologist with Florida Leatherbacks Inc. In 2018, Florida Leatherbacks Inc. partnered with the Sea Turtle Unit at Fisheries and Oceans Canada to initiate a study aimed at identifying habitat used by Florida’s leatherback sea turtles after nesting. Continental shelf waters off Atlantic Canada represent a critical foraging area for this species. There leatherbacks from Florida, Caribbean, and Central and South American nesting beaches concentrate in the summer and fall to feed on abundant jellyfish prey. One goal of the study is to track leatherbacks from Florida beaches to Atlantic Canada.
In May 2018, researchers placed a small satellite transmitter on Isla as she nested on Jupiter Island. The transmitter allowed not only scientists, but people from around the world to track the movements of Isla. Data from Isla’s transmitter indicated that she laid a record eleven nests along Florida’s beaches that spring – an exciting discovery!
In late June, Isla left Florida and, like most western Atlantic leatherbacks, began her journey north. Researchers were hopeful that she would migrate to Canada, however, instead Isla settled off North Carolina and Virginia. Isla later became a bit of an internet celebrity when she rode out Hurricane Florence, navigating huge waves off the coast of the Carolinas. It was an amazing opportunity to study sea turtle behavior during an extreme weather event. “We’re monitoring where she is right now, and it just happens to be in the middle of a hurricane,” Kelly Martin, a researcher at Florida leatherbacks Inc., told Popular Science in September of 2019.
Isla spent the next few months traveling along the coast of the United States. Although she would not make it to Canada, her transmitter relayed important data back to the researchers. In December of 2019 Isla journeyed back to Florida’s waters. Her transmitter eventually stopped in late March, and researchers eagerly awaited her return on the nesting beach. Then, on April 20th Isla was encountered nesting only a few hundred meters from where she was originally tagged! Unfortunately, her transmitter was missing, and she had injuries that researchers determined were caused by a large shark. “She’s definitely a Florida turtle! She certainly stayed close to home over the past two years—not what we usually see, “said Mike James of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Two years is a remarkably long time to track a leatherback. We’re pleased to collect so much data from one turtle.”
The Canada-Florida Leatherback Recovery Science Project is a collaboration between Florida Leatherbacks Inc. and the Sea Turtle Unit at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Florida Leatherbacks Inc. is a not for profit research group studying leatherbacks sea turtles in Martin County, Florida. Each night during the spring a small team of dedicated volunteers patrol the beaches seeking endangered leatherback sea turtles. They have documented more than 800 individual leatherbacks nesting on Florida’s beaches.