Researchers intercepted female loggerheads after their nesting forays to beaches and outfitted them with satellite tags at study sites in the Florida Panhandle, Casey Key in southwest Florida, and Dry Tortugas National Park. They then tracked the females' migrations and used a new method to determine precisely when they had arrived at "hotspot" foraging areas, in two geographically different locations.
Seven female turtles migrated to foraging sites off Southwest Florida, while the other three took up residence at foraging sites at the Yucatan site. Once the researchers applied the new method for synthesizing their satellite-tracking data, it became clear that these loggerhead turtles from all three populations consistently converged around two common sites. This confirmed a hunch that the researchers had developed after years of tracking turtles.
At both of the feeding hotspots, turtles selected individual sites where they foraged in shallow or nearshore waters less than fifty meters deep. Turtles appeared to prefer their own distinct territories, where they tended to remain resident. This suggests that it may be possible to accurately predict where sea turtles will feed, information that will prove vital for managers looking to focus conservation efforts on prime foraging habitat.
Researchers don't yet know what attracts loggerheads from around the Gulf to these specific feeding areas, although generally, loggerheads forage on the bottom of the sea floor for crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, clams or conchs.
"The logical next step is to investigate what makes these particular sites 'prime' foraging grounds by mapping and sampling the habitat types found on the sea floor," explained Hart. "It would also be
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United States Geological Survey