SMSG Blog

Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Hawksbill tagging underway (well, nearly)…

[caption id="attachment_392" align="alignleft" width="300"] Sam Weber instructing volunteer turtle catchers on the finer points of the art.
Image: W Dimmlich

Attempts to capture and tag some of Ascension Island’s elusive hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) got underway during two night dives at the Pierhead in Georgetown this week. Best known for its globally important nesting population of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), Ascension Island also has a small resident population of critically endangered hawksbill turtles about which very little is known. Hawksbills do not nest on Ascension and from their sizes it appears that most individuals are sexually immature juveniles or sub-adults, but the nesting population(s) from which they originate and the migratory pathways which bring them to the Island remain a mystery. By fitting metal flipper tags carrying a return address and taking tissue samples for mitochondrial DNA analysis we hope to answer some of these questions, as well as adding to scarce data on growth rates and residence times at Ascension. But first we have to catch them!




[caption id="attachment_393" align="alignleft" width="584"] A young hawksbill is spotted in the shallows near the pier.
Image: P v West


[caption id="attachment_394" align="alignleft" width="584"] As it swims close to the shore Dion Poncet prepares to leap.
Image: P v West


[caption id="attachment_396" align="alignleft" width="584"] Unfortunately a near miss and the turtle can be seen just escaping Dion's outstretched hand.
Image: P v West


Every evening, as many as 5-6 hawksbill turtles gather around Georgetown Pier where artificial lighting and fish discards allow them to continue foraging late into the night, making this the perfect place to start our tagging campaign. After an unsuccessful attempt earlier in the week, a crack team of elite military divers including Simon Browning, Simon Plummer and Phil Thomas managed to capture one of the largest hawksbills yet seen on Ascension - too large unfortunately, as it proved too heavy to land in the conditions at the Pierhead! Nevertheless, spurred on by their progress so far the team are planning a return visit this week and we will post an update soon.

[caption id="attachment_397" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Success! It takes Phil and two Simons to finally capture a hawksbill and shepherd it back to the pier.
Image: P v West


Contributed by Sam & Nicola Weber
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Guest — Alexander Gaos
This is fantastic stuff! Saludos from those of use working here on the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative...please let us know i... Read More
Friday, 31 August 2012 12:12 AM
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Team Member Phil Thomas

Phil Thomas has been living and working in the Falkland Islands for 12 months as a Senior Project Manager for Interserve Defence Ltd, starting in August 2011 on a 2 year tour.




[caption id="attachment_213" align="alignleft" width="224"]Phil Thomas Phil Thomas
British Forces South Atlantic Islands

Phil has been diving since 2001, diving in various locations around the world such as Egypt, Malta, Croatia, Thailand and the UK from the bleak inland quarry sites to the stunning South Devon coast. A keen UK diver enjoying the beautiful shore dives that the South Devon coast has to offer, concentrating on the smaller marine life amongst the gulley’s, rocks and kelp forests; on a sunny day with the play of light and shadows through the Kelp forests, the UK rivals any dive site in the world.


Since arriving in the Falklands Phil has been diving regularly with the Falkland Islands Sub Aqua Club (FISAC), officially the most Southerly dive club in the World! Enjoying some very challenging, yet rewarding dives in the cold South Atlantic waters


A BSAC Sports Diver, working towards his Dive Leader & Boat Handler qualifications. Phil is thrilled to be part of such an important research project in a challenging and remote marine environment.”

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