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Green Sea Turtles Use Protected Areas, Study Finds

female turtle in her nest
A female green turtle crawls out of the water to dig a nest and lay her eggs. (Image credit: A.G. Saño/Conservation International)

If you protect it, they will use it. Green sea turtles do actually make use of protected areas to nest and feed, according to a study that tracked female turtles that came ashore to lay eggs in Florida's Dry Tortugas National Park.

Until now, it wasn't clear where these green sea turtles went after nesting and how much they might use nearby reserves. In this case, the animals spent much of their time in the nearby Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary eating sea grasses and algae.

The turtles, which are endangered in Florida and threatened throughout their range, make shorter migrations than green sea turtles elsewhere in the world. That's perhaps because they don't have to go far to find food, according to a statement by the U.S. Geological Survey, whose scientists were involved in the research.

"Our goal was to better understand what types of habitats they used at sea and whether they were in fact putting these designated areas to use," said the study's lead author and USGS researcher Kristen Hart, in the statement. "This study not only shows managers that these designated protected areas are already being used by turtles, but provides insight into the types of habitats they use most."

Researchers tracked green sea turtles by fitting them with GPS tags in the Dry Tortugas National Park. The study, published this week in the journal Biological Conservation, also made use of a large habitat map of the nearby ocean created by combining 195,000 seafloor images. By combining the location of the turtles and the habitat map, researchers found the turtles spent much of their time in shallow sea grass beds and "degraded coral reefs that have been overgrown by a mixed assemblage of other organisms, such as sea fans, sponges and fire coral," according to the statement.

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Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.