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Turtle tags and tagging in Seychelles: A brief history

Source: Jeanne A. Mortimer, Chairperson, Turtle Action Group of Seychelles (TAGS)

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Seychelles has a long history and a distinguished international reputation in turtle conservation. Since the 1920s Seychelles has promoted research to better understand her sea turtle resources, and since the 1970s has actively encouraged turtle tagging and monitoring programmes. Currently, more than 20 turtle monitoring programmes are underway in Seychelles with more being planned, and during the past four decades some 20,000 turtle tags have been allocated to stakeholders around the country.

The goal of the present document is to put these programmes in perspective and in particular to provide more information about the flipper tagging programmes underway in Seychelles since 1973. Key to the success of a national turtle tagging programme is ‎centralised coordination of turtle tag procurement and distribution. ‎

This report includes the following sections:

  1. History of turtle tagging in Seychelles;
  2. Preferred tag types and guidelines for use;
  3. International efforts to standardize flipper tag series used by nations throughout the Indian Ocean and South East Asian (IOSEA) region; and
  4. Flipper tag types used in Seychelles since 1970s: description & assessment; and
  5. Master distribution list describing the allocation of the turtle tags used in Seychelles during the past four decades.

1. History of Turtle Tagging in Seychelles

The history of turtle tags and tagging in Seychelles is briefly described below. The tag types mentioned are discussed in more detail in the section entitled: 4. Flipper Tag Types Used in Seychelles: Description & Assessment.

  • In 1973, Tony Diamond initiated the long-term tagging programme at Cousin Island, with support from International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) and turtle tags donated by Dr. Archie Carr of the University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida USA). The tag style was Monel 49.
     
  • In 1980, Atterville Cedras and Victorin Laboudallon of the Department of Environment initiated a tagging programme at Curieuse Marine Park using Red Plastic Rototags.
     
  • During 1981-1984, Jeanne A. Mortimer (JAM) implemented WWF Project 1809: Marine Turtles in the Republic of Seychelles: Status & Management with funding from WWF and Government of Seychelles, with the goal of surveying turtle populations throughout the country. She initiated long term turtle monitoring and tagging programmes at: Aldabra atoll, Aride Island, and Ste. Anne Marine Park; and provided guidance & support to ongoing programmes at Cousin and Curieuse. During this project, JAM visited more than 80 islands, tagging turtles opportunistically while repeatedly visiting all the outer islands served by the IDC cargo boat Cinq Juin, and caught rides on yachts plying the waters of the inner and outer islands and aboard small planes when possible. She conducted longer intensive tagging programmes (lasting two weeks to five months) at remote sites of special interest including: Aldabra, Asomption, Coetivy, Cosmoledo, D'Arros, Farquhar atoll, the Poivre group, and St. Joseph atoll. Monel 49 and Monel 681 tags were used.
     
  • From 1985-1994: a) Long term monitoring programmes continued at Aldabra, Aride, and Curieuse and Ste. Anne Marine Parks using tags procured by the Department of Environment. b) At Cousin island, Roby Bresson continued the tagging and monitoring programme supported by ICBP using tags JAM procured from the US National Marine Fisheries Service and the University of Florida--including both Monel 681 and the new improved Inconel 681 tags.
     
  • In 1987 (& again in 1992), JAM visited Aldabra with the Smithsonian Expeditions to initiate & implement the long-term in-water study of immature foraging turtles at Aldabra atoll. Yellow Plastic Rototags and Inconel 681 tags were used.
     
  • In 1992, John Nevill initiated the turtle monitoring programme ‎at Cousine island (adjacent to Cousin Island) which has led to ‎intensive tagging & monitoring conducted by Peter Hitchins, ‎Jock Henwood and colleagues, ongoing to the present. Tags ‎used have included Aluminum, Inconel 681 and currently ‎Australian style Titanium.‎ 
     
  • During 1995-1998, the EMPS J1: Turtle & Tortoise Conservation Project was implemented by Mortimer with funding from the GEF and the Government of Seychelles. Under the J1 project, protocols were further refined for the long term turtle tagging & monitoring programmes underway at: Aldabra, Aride, Cousin, Cousine, and Curieuse and Ste. Anne Marine Parks. New monitoring programmes were initiated at: Bird island by Bird Island Lodge, and on Mahe & Praslin by Minstry of Environment. JAM tagged hundreds of turtles during an intensive yacht-based survey of nesting populations and foraging aggregations and their habitats in the outer islands. The tags used by the J1 project were Australian style Titanium turtle tags and Inconel 681 tags.
     
  • In 1998, tagging projects were initiated at: North Island by Wilderness Safaris; on the A. Kerlan coastline of Praslin by Lemuria Resorts; and at Platte Island by Eric Roest of Islands Development Company (IDC)‎.
     
  • In 1999, Nirmal Shah of Nature Seychelles (previously BirdLife ‎Seychelles) took over management of the long-running Cousin ‎Island programme and continued the use of Inconel 681 and ‎Australian style Titanium.‎
     
  • During 2001-2004, the GEF SEYMEMP: Turtle Component was ‎implemented by Mortimer with funding from GEF and ‎Seychelles Government. During that period new tagging & monitoring projects were initiated at: Denis Island by Denis ‎Island Lodge; at Fregate island by Fregate Island Private; and ‎at Desroches island by Marine Conservation Society Seychelles ‎‎(MCSS). On Mahé, tagging and monitoring by personnel of ‎Ministry of Environment continued, but was gradually passed ‎on to NGOs and private land owners including the Southern ‎Seas Project at A. Petit Boileau. Since 2003, monitoring of ‎most south Mahé beaches has been coordinated by Elke Talma ‎& David Rowat of MCSS in collaboration with Banyan Tree ‎Resorts and Chalet Anse Forbans. In-water studies of foraging ‎turtles among the Granitic Seychelles were initiated by the ‎Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR) and ‎are being continued by Seychelles Centre for Marine Research ‎& Technology - Marine Parks Authority (SCMRT-MPA).‎
     
  • In the inner islands, since 2004, turtle monitoring has been ‎conducted at: Silhouette island by Nature Protection Trust of ‎Seychelles (NPTS) in collaboration with Global Vision International (GVI); and GVI has also assisted the MPA with ‎turtle monitoring at Curieuse Island MP.‎
     
  • In the outer islands intensive turtle monitoring programmes ‎underway include those conducted by: a) Seychelles Islands ‎Foundation (SIF) at Aldabra since 1981; b) D’Arros Research ‎Centre (DRC) at D'Arros Island and St. Joseph atoll since ‎‎2004; c) Island Conservation Society (ICS) and Great Plains ‎Seychelles at the Alphonse, Bijoutier, and St. Francois islands ‎group since 2006; and d) Islands Conservation Society (ICS) ‎at Desroches Island since 2009. The ICS has plans to further ‎expand their turtle monitoring programmes to new sites in the ‎outer islands in 2010.‎
     
  • Since 1995, the Australian style Titanium turtle tags and Inconel 681 tags have been the tag of choice for use in Seychelles. The following section (entitled: 2. Preferred Tag Types and Guidelines for Use) discusses these tags in more detail, in light of our own experience.

2. Preferred Tag Types and Guidelines for Use

Nowadays, in Seychelles and in the world at large, most sea turtle researchers use one or both of the following types of turtle tags:

  • Inconel 681 tags
  • Australian style Titanium tags

Although neither type of tag is perfect, they are generally considered to be the best available at the present time. A major advantage of both is that they are composed of metals that neither corrode in sea water nor interact biologically with the turtle. Following are some guidelines for their use:

  1. Double-check tag numbers when recording them. Recording the wrong tag number is worse than not recording any information at all. It is a good idea to record the tag number and then check your written notes against the tag once more before releasing the turtle.
     
  2. Carry unused tags in order on a string. Tags need to be applied in order. This makes it easier to go back and check when recording mistakes are made. If you pick tags randomly from a bag, it is easy to make transcription errors, and impossible to correct them later.
     
  3. Record both letter prefixes and numbers. It is critical to always record every letter in the prefix in addition to the number on the tag. Since 1973, the following letter prefixes have been used in Seychelles, and most of them are still in circulation: A, E, G, M, PPZ, QQH, SA, SCA, SEY, and X.
     
  4. Keep a record of lost, bent or destroyed tags.
     
  5. If you see a particularly unusual looking tag, check the return address on the reverse side. It may be from outside the country.
     
  6. Australian style Titaniums. These relatively large tags, when properly applied, are probably the most comfortable for the turtle to wear. This is our tag of choice for large turtles with thick flippers -- especially adult green turtles. But, they can also be applied to immature turtles. Studies conducted in Australia indicate that these have the best rates of retention, especially when applied at the site immediately inside and adjacent to the first scale (Limpus 1992).

    The biggest problem with these tags is that they often need to be realigned prior to application to make sure that the point of the tag (male end) is properly aligned with the hole in the female end. This is best done using a needle nosed pliars.
     
  7. Inconel 681 Tags. Although the 681 tags are smaller than the Australian style Titanium tags, they can cause discomfort to the turtle if not properly applied. Care is needed to ensure that the tag is not applied too far into the edge of the flipper. Ideally, 25-33% of the tag should extend beyond the edge of the flipper after application. This is especially important when applying these tags to immature turtles that are still growing.

Literature Cited & Additional Reading:

Balazs, G. H. 1999. Factors to consider in the tagging of sea turtles. In: Eckert, K.L., K.A. Bjorndal, F.A. Abreu-Grobois, & M. Donnelly (Eds.). Research and Management Techniques for the Conservation of Sea Turtles. IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group Publication No. 4.

Limpus, C. J. (1992). Estimation of tag loss in marine turtle research. Wildlife Research 19, 457-69.

Mortimer, J.A. General Information on Flipper Tags. http://www.ioseaturtles.org/flipper_background.php

3. Regional Efforts to Standardise Turtle Tag Series through IOSEA MoU

The IOSEA MoU (Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia) has put in place a framework through which States can work together to conserve and replenish depleted marine turtle populations for which they share responsibility http://www.ioseaturtles.org. This is achieved through the collective implementation of an associated Conservation and Management Plan. Seychelles is a signatory state of the IOSEA MoU.

At the 3rd meeting of Signatory States of the IOSEA in 2005 a proposal was made for nations to standardise the codes used in the various tagging programmes throughout the region in order to avoid duplication of tag series. The rationale was that for turtle tag to remain an effective tool with which to identify individual turtles, each tag needs to be unique. But, given the extensive migrations of individual turtles, and the profusion of new tagging programmes around the world, there is a need to coordinate and standardise the codes used in the various tagging programmes -- both at the domestic and international levels.

A method was proposed whereby each nation might use its two digit ISO code (International Organisation for Standardisation) as the first two letters of the prefix on its turtle tag ID series followed by a four digit number. A four digit number will allow for 9,999 unique tag numbers in a series. By combining the ISO number with a third letter prefix many more variations are possible. For example, Seychelles (whose ISO code is "SC") could use the following combinations:

SCA 0001-9999
SCB 0001-9999
SCC 0001-9999
etc.

For more information on this proposed system, see the background paper produced by Mortimer:
http://www.ioseaturtles.org/flipper_background.php

The Secretariat of the IOSEA also produced a webpage listing the various tag series used throughout the region. This can be accessed through the following link: http://www.ioseaturtles.org/flippertags.php

4. Description & Assessment of Flipper Tag Types Used in Seychelles

The flipper tag was invented in the 1950s by Dr. Archie Carr of the University of Florida. The first flipper tags used on turtles, the Monel 49, were in fact designed to be used as "Cow Ear Tags" while the smaller Monel 681 tags were designed for use as "Hog Ear Tags". Due to design modifications the tags we used today are actually marketed as "Turtle Tags" or "Wildlife Conservation Tags".

On the following pages, the seven styles of turtle tags that have been used in Seychelles since 1973 are described and assessed:

  • Plastic Rototags,
  • Monel 49,
  • Monel 4,
  • Monel 681,
  • Aluminum Livestock,
  • Inconel 681, and
  • Australian Titanium Turtle tags.

 

Tag Style: Plastic Rototags
Manufacturer: Dalton Supplies Ltd., England Plastics Rototags
Material composition: Plastic
Dimensions: Comprises two flat plates (male & female), each measuring 45 mm x 19 mm.
Locking mechanism: Male plate is equipped with a plastic spearhead that enters the hole in female plate.
Advantages: Numbers easy to read, even underwater.
Disadvantages: Prone to entanglement in fishing nets & monofilament line. May require a prepunching a hole in the flipper by means of a leather punch. Plastic becomes brittle in the UV of sunlight causing tags to crack.
Notes: Due to concern about entanglement issues, now rarely used by sea turtle researchers.

 

Tag Style: Monel 49
Manufacturer: National Band & Tag Company, Newport Kentucky USA Monel 49
Material composition: Monel metal
Dimensions: Tag measures 43 mm x 10 mm cm.
Locking mechanism: In style 49, male end does not penetrate female end, but rather curves around tiny bar on the inside of female end.
Advantages: Low cost. Easy to apply. Fouling organisms do not adhere to tag surface due to corrosion.
Disadvantages: Because monel tags corrode rapidly, they fall off sooner than tags composed of more durable metals. Because male end does not penetrate female end, it can be difficult to know if tag has locked properly. Small bar can break causing tag to fall off.
Notes: Now rarely used by sea turtle researchers, having been replaced by tags with superior material composition and locking mechanisms.

 

Tag Style: Monel 4
Manufacturer: National Band & Tag Company, Newport Kentucky USA Monel 4
Material composition: Monel metal
Dimensions: Tag measures 18 mm x 4 mm
Locking mechanism: Same as Monel 681.
Advantages: Low cost. Easy to apply.
Disadvantages: Corrodes and falls off quickly.
Notes: Used occasionally in the past for very small turtles. No longer used.

 

Tag Style: Monel 681
Manufacturer: National Band & Tag Company, Newport, Kentucky USA Monel 4
Material composition: Monel metal
Dimensions: Tag measures 27 mm x 9 mm
Locking mechanism: Male end penetrates hole in female end and curves around outside of tag.
Advantages: Very low cost. Better locking mechanism than that of Monel 49. Easy to apply. Fouling organisms do not adhere to tag surface due to corrosion.
Disadvantages: Even shorter retention time than Monel 49 due to smaller size & thinner composition.
Notes: Now rarely used by sea turtle researchers, having been replaced by tags with superior material composition.

 

Tag Style: Aluminium Livestock
Manufacturer: Various Aluminium Livestock
Material composition: Aluminium metal
Dimensions: Tag measures 42 mm x 10 mm.
Locking mechanism: Male end penetrates hole in female end and curves around outside of tag.
Advantages: Very low cost. Easy to apply.
Disadvantages: Corrodes rapidly in sea water leading to short retention times.
Notes: Not recommended for tagging marine species

 

Tag Style: Inconel 681
Manufacturer: National Band & Tag Company, Newport, Kentucky USA Inconel 681
Material composition: Inconel metal
Dimensions: Tag measures 27 mm x 9 mm.
Locking mechanism: Male end penetrates hole in female end and curves around outside of tag.
Advantages: Very good locking mechanism. Tag retention is very good because Inconel corrodes very slowly in sea water. Easy to apply. Relatively low cost.
Disadvantages: May cause discomfort to turtles if applied too far into the edge of the flipper, or if applied to very thick flippers. (See section 3 above for more information). Under some conditions fouling organisms may adhere to tag surface and cause tags to pull out.
Notes: Considered one of the best tags on the market today.

 

Tag Style: Australian Style Titanium Turtle
Manufacturer: Stockbrands Co., Pty. Ltd., Western Australia, Australia Australian Titanium
Material composition: Titanium metal
Dimensions: Tag measures 43 mm x 10 mm.
Locking mechanism: Male end penetrates hole in female end and curves around outside of tag.
Advantages: Comfortable for the turtle when applied correctly. Best type of tag for large sea turtles. Very high rates of tag retention.
Disadvantages: Tags sometimes need to be realigned prior to application. Relatively expensive. Under some conditions fouling organisms may adhere to tag surface and cause tags to pull out.
Notes: Considered by many to be one of the best turtle tags on the market today.

 
5. Master Distribution List: Allocation of Turtle Tags in Seychelles (1973 to the present)

A list of all the turtle tags that have been allocated to turtle stakeholders in Seychelles since the 1970s is provided separately [ see Seychelles Turtle Tag Distribution List ]. The tags are arranged in alphabetical and numeric order. For each set of tags the following information is provided:

  • Tag Prefix
  • Tag Numbers (usually sets of 25)
  • Material composition of tag
  • Style of tag
  • Locality of Use (island or island group)
  • Recipient (to which person or organisation the tags were allocated)
  • Year Allocated
  • Reverse Message (return address on the back of the tag)

Tag numbers are listed in batches of 25 to correspond to the batch of tags on each "stick," except in those cases in which tags from a stick of tags were used at more than one site (or locality of use).

[Note: Tags used by J.A. Mortimer in Chagos Islands (B.I.O.T.) during 1996, 1999, and 2006 are also listed here because they are from the same tag series as those used in Seychelles. But, all tags
used in Chagos were purchased separately for use in Chagos.]

This reference list was produced to enable stakeholders to determine the origin of unfamiliar tags that they encounter in the field. It indicates the general locality where a set of tags was applied and
also the organisation responsible for applying the tags. In the case of nesting turtles, the location where a tag was applied is not necessarily the most important nesting site for that turtle, since individual turtles may utilise multiple nesting localities even within a single season.

Click to download the Seychelles Turtle Tag Distribution List (114 KB).

   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
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Acknowledgements
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