OASIS CONSERVATION PROJECT
The OASIS program was set up in 2013 to study loggerhead turtles, cetaceans, Bluefin tuna and sharks. Unlike reefs and coasts, the open ocean can be a lonely place, a blue desert where drifting Sargasso, logs and turtles become a crucial habitat for all open water (pelagic) species. A basking loggerhead turtle becomes a small oasis, offering its body and shade as habitat for sea birds, invertebrates and algae. Gradually, this habitat builds up a bait ball of small fish, an essential source of food for great ocean voyagers as sharks, tuna, mahi mahi and cetaceans. The sea turtles turn into a floating oasis. Find out more about this project on the SOCIB webpage.
Out in the deep blue, we study cetaceans, sea turtles, sharks and tunas. Our research team deploys satellite tags on loggerhead turtles to track them in real time, observing their behaviour and habitat use. Our tagged animals become “animal oceanographers” sending us valuable information. We can see where they go and what they do. The goal is to one day manage fish stocks based on real time information we receive about the underwater ecosystem. Since 2003, we’ve deployed over 50 tags.
So far, this approach has given us more insight into the loggerhead turtle’s habits and is helping us create “zoning maps” for sea turtle populations. These will help us reduce bycatch and ship strikes as we redirect shipping lanes and create marine reserves.
This summer, we’ve successfully tagged a number of sea turtles, thanks to our collaboration with Proyecto Libera of SEO Birdlife in alliance with Ecoembes and the support of Fundación Reina Sofía, who have donated satellite tags to our project. Our new crew of turtle oceanographers are feeding back data to our team of marine biologists this very moment. Each time a turtle rises to the surface, its transmitter emits a satellite signal with position, dive pattern and temperature data. We will be focusing our research on marine debris, and how this can negatively impact loggerhead sea turtles, as they become entangled or suffocate on floating trash.
We input our data into our Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS), a revolutionary platform that receives data from satellites, buoys, gliders, hydrophones and cameras. The IOOS receives the data at once and uses it to model maps with physical characteristics. This amazing oceanographic tool is used to forecast tsunamis, storms and even predict the movement of oil spills. We use it to help us interpret the movements of open water species and apply these directly to the management of fishing techniques and marine reserves.
For this experiment, state of the art underwater gliders were deployed alongside satellite tagged turtles. Just like remotely operated vehicles shaped like submarines, they can navigate and sample at different depths. Our gliders are manipulated by technicians using tools similar to video game controllers to follow the sea turtles and feedback valuable oceanographic data. They can measure salinity, sound, temperature, water quality and more.
Loggerhead sea turtles are transoceanic travellers. The conservation of such a highly mobile species requires effort on an international scale. Alnitak has teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Marine Turtle Conservation Fund, created under the US Marine Turtle Conservation Act. With their support, we continue in our efforts to track and research sea turtles, with the hope of reducing ship collisions and by-catch of this beautiful species.
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One of Alnitak’s fields of interest has been the development and testing of a variety of underwater sensors and electronic monitoring systems (EMS). These can be use to monitor human activities in protected areas (navigation, fishing, noise, debris pollution), to monitor whale and dolphin populations (passive acoustics) as well as sea turtles and tunas (telemetry and acoustic tagging networks - Guideline for the use of Electronic Monitoring in NATURA 2000.)
US Fish and Wildlife Service, Spanish tuna fishing fleet, SOCIB, National Geographic, Kai Marine, Stanford University, Tag a Giant, IFREMER (Ocean Research Institute of France), NOAA