Marine Biology

, 163:8 | Cite as

Sea turtles return home after intentional displacement from coastal foraging areas

  • Takahiro ShimadaEmail author
  • Colin Limpus
  • Rhondda Jones
  • Julia Hazel
  • Rachel Groom
  • Mark Hamann
Original paper


Vulnerable species may be removed from their normal habitat and released at a new location for conservation reasons (e.g. re-establish or augment a local population) or due to difficulty or danger in returning individuals to original sites (e.g. after captivity for research or rehabilitation). Achieving the intended conservation benefits will depend, in part, on whether or not the released animals remain at the new human-selected location. The present study tested the hypothesis that hard-shelled sea turtles along the coast of north-eastern Australia (9–28°S, 142–153°E) would not remain at new locations and would attempt to return to their original areas. We used satellite-tracking data gathered previously for different purposes over several years (1996–2014). Some turtles had been released at their capture sites, inferred to be home areas, while other turtles had been displaced (released away from their inferred home areas) for various reasons. All non-displaced turtles (n = 54) remained at their home areas for the duration of tracking. Among displaced turtles (n = 59), the large majority travelled back to their respective home areas (n = 52) or near home (n = 4). Homing turtles travelled faster and adopted straighter routes in cooler water and travelled faster by day than by night. Our results showed that displacement up to 117.4 km and captivity up to 514 days did not disrupt homing ability nor diminish fidelity to the home area. However, for homing turtles we infer energetic costs and heightened risk in unfamiliar coastal waters. Confirmed homing suggests that moving individuals away from danger might offer short-term benefit (e.g. rescue from an oil spill), but moving turtles to a new foraging area is unlikely to succeed as a long-term conservation strategy. Priority must rather be placed on protecting their original habitat.


Green Turtle Original Area Utilisation Distribution Loggerhead Turtle Homing Behaviour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was funded by the National Environmental Research Program (NERP), Department of Environment and Heritage Protection of Queensland government (EHP), James Cook University (JCU), Gladstone Port Corporation Limited, GHD Australia, Healthy Waterways, Beldi consulting, Sea World Gold Coast Aquarium and Bundaberg Sugar. We are grateful to Reef HQ Aquarium, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, and Underwater World Aquarium, for contributing satellite-tracking data of their rescued sea turtles to this study, and to M. Smith, K. Huff, C. Lacasse, and H. Campbell for their help in providing access to the data. We thank J. Limpus, D. Limpus, M. Savige, and numerous volunteers for their help in capturing and handling turtles, and P. Yates and A. Reside for their assistance in data analysis. G. Hays and an anonymous reviewer provided constructive comments that greatly improved an earlier version of this paper. T.S. was supported by NERP scholarship and Ito Foundation for International Education Exchange Scholarship. This research was conducted under the ethics permits SA212/11/395 of EHP and, A1229 and A1683 of JCU.

Supplementary material

227_2015_2771_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (263 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 263 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Takahiro Shimada
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Colin Limpus
    • 2
  • Rhondda Jones
    • 1
  • Julia Hazel
    • 1
    • 4
  • Rachel Groom
    • 3
  • Mark Hamann
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage ProtectionBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Marine Ecosystems Group, Flora and Fauna DivisionNorthern Territory Department of Land Resource ManagementDarwinAustralia
  4. 4.Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem ResearchJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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