Vol 6 No. 45 - August 2, 2006

Fund-raising success: Willie to get satellite tracker

Mote Marine Laboratory staff released Sundae last week.
By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — In a few weeks, Chilly Willy will become the first rehabilitated sea turtle to be outfitted with a satellite tracker on the Gulf Coast.

Willy was found near death on the bayside of Anna Maria Island on Valentine’s Day of this year during a cold snap.

AMI Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox got the juvenile green turtle into her truck and brought it to the sea turtle hospital at Mote Marine Laboratory.

"The turtle was really lethargic," Fox said. "It was covered in algae, which isn’t a good sign, because it means the turtle hasn’t been swimming well for quite a while."

Mote Veterinarian Dr. Charlie Manire examined Willy and determined the turtle was suffering from hypothermia and anemia.

At first, Willy wasn’t interested in food. The staff had to resort to force-feeding.

He or she (the turtle is too young to determine its gender) was treated for the anemia and the cold shock.

Slowly, Willy returned to health. In recent weeks, he has been gaining weight so fast that the Mote staff had to cut back on feeding.

Fox and Manire talked about the possibility of attaching a satellite tag to Willy to check his location after he is released into the Gulf. As far as anyone can determine, no other rehabilitated sea turtle has ever been satellite tagged and released on this coast, according to Manire.

"This is a first," he said. "It will be interesting. Not much is known about the range of juvenile green turtles."

The Sun got on board to help raise the $3,000 necessary to purchase the satellite tag and the satellite time needed to check Willy’s paths.

Kids from Project Sea Turtle camp helped out and raised funds as well. They also paid a visit to Willy at Mote.

Sea turtles are air breathers, so every time Willy surfaces for a breath, the tag will send a signal to the satellite. The location of the turtle at that moment will show up as a dot on a map. That happens each time the turtle comes up for air. Then you can just connect the dots to see where Willy has been and where he’s headed.

Not much is known about where juvenile green turtles go to feed and grow up, so this will be a good opportunity to gain some knowledge, according to Manire.

When Willy is tagged and released, hopefully in the middle of this month, his travels will be charted and can be checked at the seaturtle.org web site.

Adult females have been tagged for several years. Their range is much wider and broader than had been believed. Many of the loggerheads that nest on Anna Maria Island beaches swim to the coast off Spain for to feed. But they apparently go as adults. Little is known of the habits of sub-adults, Manire said.

Fox said she’s been in touch with Mote, and there’s a good possibility Willy will be released from the Island.

"I couldn’t be happier about Willy and the part Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch will play in his release and satellite tagging," Fox said. "The Sun, the Island and the volunteers really came through on this one."

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