Traveling To Vanuatu To Satellite Tag Hawksbill Turtles


"It's 2 a.m. and we're waiting for the resin to dry on our second turtle, when all of a sudden, three tiny baby hawksbill sea turtles crawl past us. That moment made the whole purpose of our trip come full circle for me; seeing those three little guys, I realized that by tagging these adult nesting turtles, we could possibly influence their future." - Tess Savage

In early January, HPA students Holly Hoffbauer ('19), Sara Thiel ('21), Tess Savage ('19), as well as HPA Sea Turtle Research Program Director Marc Rice, and Associate Director Laura Jim '91 completed a successful 10 day research project to Moso Island in the Republic of Vanuatu, an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. This research project is vital in investigating the declining hawksbill sea turtle population in the South Pacific. The team attached satellite tags to three post nesting hawksbill sea turtles in order to map their migration from their nesting beach to their home forage grounds, which may be in another country, in an effort to improve and promote international sea turtle conservation.


The three HPA students were given the opportunity to apply their learning in a real world setting, gaining skills in global citizenship and scientific research. They worked with Rice, Jim and several Moso Islanders during four nights on the nesting beaches. Two teams were assigned different sectors of the nesting beaches to monitor and find nesting female hawksbill sea turtles.

Holly states, "This trip was important to my growth as a student and human being because I had the opportunity to see another culture and way of life different than my own."

Learn More About HPA's Sea Turtle Program

In the four nights that monitoring was conducted, three nesting turtles were found and satellite tags were attached. The turtles were safely restrained while Rice and the team fiberglassed a satellite tag to the highest point on the carapace. The process takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. After a fiberglass resin had solidified, all three turtles were safely released back into the ocean to resume their normal behavior. The tags are programed to transmit to satellites overhead when the turtle is out of the water. The HPA team will now monitor the data and movements of the tagged turtles over the next few months in order to trace their migration to their forage grounds.


Moso Island, the location of the campsite, and the location of the three nesting hawksbill turtles that were captured and outfitted with satellite tags.

This is the first of three planned trips and Rice hopes to deploy more tags over the next couple of years. All of the data will be analyzed and shared with co-investigator, Francis Hickey, and Vanuatu's Department of Fisheries, and once completed the results will be published. By tracking their migration routes, researchers can identify which countries to focus their conservation efforts on.

Tess notes, "This trip gave me the opportunity and possibility to actually make an impact on our planet using scientific research. Looking at the direction our planet is headed, any positive impact is helpful, even if it's something as small as putting satellite tags on three hawksbill sea turtles, because a small impact can become more important and eventually cause a substantial influence."

View more research and photos from the trip.


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