New sensor can predict when turtle hatchlings emerge from nest

New sensor can predict when turtle hatchlings emerge from nest

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Researchers have developed a new, low-cost system to predict when turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest.

Part of sea turtle conservation involves monitoring when turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest and ensuring that they make it safely to the oceans. This method currently involves much manpower and cost, as we cannot predict the exact day and time of this occurrence.

To tackle this problem, a research team has developed the TurtleSense system, a low-cost sensor that includes a accelerometer, temperature sensor and microprocessor. Resembling a turtle egg, the system is attached to a six-metre cable that links to a communication tower that remotely transmitted data on the hatchlings’ movement inside the nest.

At the loggerhead sea turtle nests at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the researchers used the TurtleSense system to find out whether they could accurately predict when the turtle hatchlings would emerge.

According to the press release, the researchers were able to identify a pattern of intense hatchling movement within the nest, followed by a pause, which let them predict almost the exact day when the young turtles would dig out of the sand.

Samuel Wantman from Nerds Without Borders described the activity within the nest prior to the mass exodus to the ocean: "As each turtle emerges from its shell, it climbs up to join its siblings at the top of the clutch of eggs, creating a wave of commotion among all the other baby turtles in the nest.  When there is no more commotion there is a period of quiet, which may be the impetus for all the hatchlings to boil out of the nest together."

Their results suggest that hatchlings can detect motion, which allows them to communicate and head out together as a group. In addition, the TurtleSense system has also been successfully tested on Olive Ridley and Green Turtle nests with similar results.

The TurtleSense system is a low-cost, creative solution that remotely allows us to detect how baby turtles synchronise developmental movement within the nest in real time. We can use the system to detect hatching and to better predict when the hatchlings will emerge onto the beach," said Erin Clabough, from University of Virginia.

The findings of the study was published in the PLOS ONE journal.