Finding Leatherback Turtles off the US coast is proving hard. We've been here for a few days and you can do as much preparation and research as you want, but you can't plan for the weather or for the Turtles themselves.
Grant and I are here in Brunswick, Georgia, USA with the Large Pelagic Research Team from the University of New Hampshire and using a boat owned by the Georgia Department of Natural resources we have been heading out into the waters off Georgia to find Leatherbacks. If the weather is good and the sea is calm you can spot a Leatherback from the shine of their backs and the small round blob of their head as they come up for air. They are not small being 1.5 to 2 metres long and weighing up to 1500lbs - like a Mini Cooper.
Once a Leatherback is found Andy Myers uses his net
to catch the Turtle and the team attach a small satellite tag that will
send back the location of the animal plus other information such as
water temperature and diving patterns. Last year was a great year for
the team with plenty of Turtles in the area. A 20 year data set shows
that Leatherbacks pass this coastline and this all points to positive
results in our quest to find and tag these creatures, however they are
proving to be just a little too elusive with no sighting yet.
We do have support in the form of the Right Whale scientists who are also working in the area. This team run sorties in a light aeroplane looking for the critically endangered Right Whale who also use this coastline. Once the scientists have spotted the Right Whales they are then able to tell the local shipping to avoid any collisions. The benefit to us is that they are also able see Leatherback Turtles from the air and radio down where they have seen them, however so far they have only seen two, not good.
We were fortunate enough to see lots of marine life from Spotted Dolphins to the bizarre Sunfish to Turtles, but the wrong ones: Greens and Loggerheads, so we're changing strategy. We've heard there are plenty of Leatherbacks further up the coast, so armed with this information and a good fistful of hope we're leaving our waters and heading out at midnight to steam 8hrs up the coast to the waters off South Carolina. It will be a long trip, almost 24 hrs at sea, I hope my land legs will take it but I hope more that we are successful and finally find and tag one of these great creatures for WOTM.
Find out how we get on in the next report,