Modelling Oceanic Dispersal Of Sea Turtle Hatchings In The South China Sea

Every year, more than half a million sea turtle hatchlings are released from hatcheries along Malaysia’s coasts. Even so, little is known about where these hatchlings go after the initial ‘swimming frenzy’ which takes them into the open ocean. The big knowledge gap that exists in the life cycle of sea turtles, from when they enter the ocean to when they return to their natal beach years decades later, has been termed by scientists as the ‘lost years’. Unfolding advances in ocean current modelling are now helping us to predict the movement of sea turtle hatchlings during this period.

The current study investigates the swimming potential of hatchlings. This data will subsequently be fed into ocean current models to ultimately predict the distance that a hatchling may travel before passively drifting along ocean currents. To complement this data, SEATRU is also attempting to quantify the energetic costs of the process of nest escaping and crawling towards the ocean, to predict the hatchling’s remaining energy reserve upon entering the swimming phase. With the help of computer simulations, this data will allow us to construct hatchling dispersal models which can predict likely dispersal routes and establish these as areas of high conservation priority.

A sea turtle hatchling during an experiment to determine its swimming potential

Experimental setup at the “Turtle Lab” at The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort, where the experiments were carried out