• Emily

How is Telemetry used in Marine Conservation?

One of the main ways data can be collected on marine species is through telemetry. As marine animals can move throughout the entire Ocean, it is difficult to determine population sizes, locations for feeding and breeding and the depth in which species can reach. Telemetry can be used to bridge these gaps in knowledge.

So, what is telemetry? Telemetry is just a fancy way of saying tagging and tracking. In scientific terms, it is the transferring of data from a source through sensors such as satellites. For example, a species that has been tagged, like a sea turtle, will have a transmitter that sends data such as GPS location to satellites and then onto the receiving computer. Researchers can then study this data. Some tags will send data in real-time whereas, others can be delayed or even need to be retrieved from the animal to collect the data.

Any marine species can be tagged and tracked to gain essential knowledge to aid their conservation. This then provides broader ocean protection for the entire ecosystem, as the loss of one species will have a knock-on effect on other species too. This is because species rely on each other for food and habitats. As there are many tag designs and sizes, it is possible to track the majority of species in the Ocean. Don't worry though, no animals are harmed in the process as studies have to go through ethical approval, to ensure species are not harmed physically or behaviorally.

What data can be collected?

There is a range of data which can be collected from telemetry studies. This includes:

- Depth of species

- Species locations

- Water data including temperature and light

- Time

What can telemetry data help with?

The data collected during these studies improves the conservation of species and protects the ocean and a range of sea life. This is because the data can be used to work out essential information on different species which would otherwise be hard to collect. For example, species locations in the ocean, migratory patterns and feeding locations. This information can enable projects to put conservation measures in place to improve the population numbers.

Conservation plans can include Marine Protected Areas and no-fishing zones. Marine Protected Areas, AKA MPAs are areas in the ocean which are protected by country laws and prevent any leisure or fishing activities from taking place within them. This enables species to thrive as they have limited threats in those areas. Threats to species include pollution and fishing practices which damage their habitats or catch them accidentally (bycatch). MPAs are commonly used in breeding and feeding areas which are noticed in the telemetry data. This is normally where species congregate at a certain time of the year. Migratory Marine Protected Areas (mMPAs) or boat speed limits are also used to protect migratory species such as whales. These zones move around the Ocean to protect the species moving within them. This prevents injury and death to species caused by boat strikes.

The data collected is also used to aid the review of species for the IUCN Red List. As telemetry studies are normally done on species of concern, it enables the IUCN Red List to notice changes in population and re-assess their vulnerability. The more vulnerable a species is, the more conservation measures are normally put in place to protect them.

Lastly, the depth data which is collected for species can also enable researchers to understand the behavioural patterns of species better. Researchers can start to see patterns in the dives and work out whether this is due to light levels, time of day or feeding patterns. Once again this can improve the understanding of species and management procedures which are used to protect them.

How can you get involved?

As species in the ocean need protecting to ensure their future populations it is great for people to get involved and help, whenever possible. This can be done in small actions or large depending on what works best for you. To learn more about telemetry and species of interest, there are websites which allow you to look at data which is being collected through the use of telemetry. This data is interesting as you can also see what is happening with species around the world, some websites also allow donations which contribute to their studies of species to collect the essential data needed. Some website examples can be seen below!

1. Tohora Voyages - Southern Right Whale

Researchers are tracking 11 Southern Right Whales around the Antarctic, Australia and the Auckland Islands. Through this link: https://tohoravoyages.ac.nz/track-the-2021-tohora/ you can see the live locations of each whale and see their migratory pattern. Each whale's location and path is different so it is interesting to see which whales are travelling together and those which have gone in a different direction!

2. OCEARCH Shark Tracker - Sharks, Seals and Sea Turtles

The OCEARCH Shark Tracker is an amazing tool to track multiple species around the World. Here you can look at any species you wish and find out the individual's name, size, weight, last location, location at tagging, movement pattern and general information about that particular species. This is a great tool to learn more about different species and how you can help protect the ocean. Find the tracking here: https://www.ocearch.org/tracker/

3. Sea Turtle Conservancy - Sea Turtles

The Sea Turtle Conservancy provides tracking information for multiple individual sea turtles. The website provides information for several different species and individuals, including size, location of tagging and date. You can then choose which turtle you would like to track and view their migration map which shows the exact locations they have been seen and the total distance they have travelled and migrated. The Sea Turtle Conservancy website (https://conserveturtles.org/sea-turtle-tracking-active-sea-turtles/) is also an amazing tool to learn about sea turtles, find out how you can get involved and see which projects you could volunteer with.

If you would like to get involved further then there are lots of conservation projects. You can get involved with local organisations or go further afield and volunteer abroad. There are so many projects available around the world for the species you are interested in whether that's sea turtles, sharks, whales or dolphins.

Have you ever volunteered abroad before?

Thanks for reading,


Keywords: Marine Conservation, Ocean Conservation, Ocean Protection, Sea Life, Conservation, IUCN Red List

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