The St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN), our local non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to researching and raising awareness of the plight of endangered sea turtles, is this week hosting some exciting visitors.
Mr. Greg Marshall, who is a Research Associate for the prestigious and internationally renowned organisation - National Geographic - has come to St. Kitts and Nevis with his colleague, Mr. Chris Luginbuhl, to offer assistance to Dr. Kimberly Stewart - founder of the SKSTMN - in the most unusual way.
Mr. Marshall has pioneered a unique research tool known as the “National Geographic Crittercam”. The Crittercam does as the name implies - it is a tiny camera which is painstakingly adapted and tailored to suit each species that it has been tried on. It is primarily a research tool, which helps scientists understand better some of the most challenging unknowns of wild animal behaviour. In the case of the SKSTMN it will help to track the giant leatherback turtles after they have come up to nest on our beaches.
“I am really excited to have been given this opportunity to work with Mr. Marshall” Dr. Stewart explained. “I have spent literally years trying to learn and document everything I can about these wonderful animals, some over 1 tonne in weight, but a frustration is that I know I only have a tiny piece of the jigsaw. The turtles spend most of their lives at sea, the males for example, never come back to land unless injured.
Obviously, once I have monitored a hatchling or taken samples from a laying female, I can only hazard an educated guess about their habits in their natural element - the deep ocean. Mostly, I work in the dark too, as the females prefer to nest at night. With the use of the Crittercam, we hope to be able to see firsthand where these animals go once they regain the ocean, what they forage and who they hang out with!”
Mr. Marshall explained that the camera was attached by suction to the animal and was pre-programmed to start recording at 5am through to 10am when the camera is triggered to release. Whilst attached the camera is able to see the world through the eyes of the animal and is able to take footage that most cameramen could only dream of.
“Of course” he explained “It will need to be edited as much of it will only be of interest to scientists, but as each deployment is unique we often capture the exciting and unexpected. This kind of animal-borne imaging can be invaluable in assisting not only with research but also education, as a picture can communicate with an immediacy that scientific data does not give to the layman.”
Once the device is detached by a timed release mechanism, it floats to the surface where it transmits a signal that can be picked up over a 30 mile radius.
Dr. Stewart added “We are honoured to be working in collaboration with Mr. Sam Heyliger of the Department of Marine Resources and the National Coast Guard whose expertise in search and rescue will be an absolutely invaluable help to us and we hope in return that it will give an opportunity for training on search and rescue technique - although I doubt they have been called out to look for something so small before” she laughed.
The St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) is a registered community based organisation formed in 2003 to monitor the nesting populations of sea turtles on St Kitts.
For more information on:
St Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network: www.stkittsturtles.org
National Geographic and Mr. Marshall www.nationalgeographic.com
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