A juvenile Loggerhead turtle is generating excitement among marine scientists in French Polynesia as she continues an epic swim across the Pacific in what appears to be a straight line.

Ariti, as she has been named, was the first Loggerhead to be treated at the sea turtle rehabilitation clinic in Moorea which has been operating for nearly nine years.

Veterinary Surgeon Dr Cecile Gaspar says Ariti recovered quickly after she was nearly bashed to death in heavy surf, but stayed at the clinic for around two months before she was released with two satellite transponders attached to her shell.

Since then she has been tracked over more than two thousand kilometres, and after passing by Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga, she appears to be heading to feeding grounds off the coast of Fiji.

"What is interesting is that she seems to be programmed to go to one place, she's not going left and right and left, she's really going straight, " Dr Gaspar has told Pacific Beat.

"A very large juvenile and baby Loggerhead tagging program has been developed between the NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, and the aquarium of New Caledonia, and I think the collaboration with all the South Pacific countries is very, very important in this case, because these turtles are the link between all of us, between all of our conservation programs."

Dr Gaspar says it was the NOAA who provided the team in French Polynesia with the technology to track Ariti and find out how long she would stay in French Polynesian waters, and whether or not she would head immediately towards the Fijian feeding grounds.

Now the scientists are waiting to see how long the turtle's solo journey will continue, as they seek to find out where she came from in the first place.

"They basically live alone, Dr Gaspar says, but a genetic sample was taken before her release, and that will be compared to Loggerhead stocks in New Caledonia, Fiji and elsewhere."

"Our aim is take more individual samples so we can learn more about how the turtles are spreading out and moving around the Pacific Ocean, so that we can develop better ways of protecting them." "In French Polynesia the two main species that we encounter are the Hawksbill and the Green Turtle, but even if there is only a small population of Loggerheads, it's very important to gather information for our research colleagues in other parts of the Pacific who are studying them too"

"Conversation strategies will be planned based on where the Loggerheads are, and if the population is genetically separated, then it would be crucial to protect them in a different manner," said Dr Gaspar.

"All the programs are linked and there is also a very developed education program for schools and the local population aimed at raising awareness, so when they see a turtle they can call us."

"French Polynesia is made up of more than 120 different islands with a very large ocean surface and we need a lot of population awareness, so that everybody gives us information."

 

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