Sea Turtles research

Dual Research and Conservation Program
on sea turtles


The stocks, distribution, and ecology of sea turtles are not well understood in French Polynesia. This lack of data contrasts with the extensive results obtained in many countries of the Pacific and makes the development of an conservation plan for sea turtles, in a territory as big as the Europe, quite difficult.

Te mana o te moana has developed a wide research program on sea turtles, funded mainly by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and the French Ministry in charge of the Environment.

Started on July 2010, it is an innovative program which combines a new technique of in-water monitoring called “the manta tow” and nesting beach monitoring of green sea turtles.

This study targets endangered species (Chelonia mydas) and critically endangered species (Eretmochelys imbricata). The scope of this project covers six islands of the Society archipelagos: Bora Bora, Maupiti, Tupai Maiao, Moorea and Tetiaroa.


Phase One
An International Conference on sea turtles

Before the mission, and in order to gather local and international actors in sea turtle conservation, a workshop was organized in Moorea at the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea on October 26th and 27th 2010. This workshop, called the “1st French Polynesian Symposium and Workshop on Sea Turtles”, gathered local NGOs, research centres, fishermen, environmental officials and local authorities. International scientists were also invited to share their experiences in the sea turtle conservation.

Goals were to establish an accurate assessment of the actions already carried out in French Polynesia and future needs; to define the local priorities in both conservation and research of sea turtles; and, with the local government, to define proposals for conservation plans involving researchers and local populations and adapted specifically to French Polynesia.

2010, 26th and 27th of October: First International Conference on sea turtles in French Polynesia


Phase Two
Monitoring on nesting beaches and at sea

Following the the 1st International Symposium on Sea turtles of French Polynesia, the second phase of the Dual Research and Conservation program on sea turtles in French Polynesia was started. The first mission of in-water monitoring of the sea turtles in French Polynesia took place on November the 1rst, 2010.

The aim was to collect crucial information about sea turtles’ movements and migration habits. To achieve this goal, te mana o te moana implemented this dual research and conservation program, including the monitoring of nesting beaches on some selected islands, as well as an in-water monitoring of sea turtles’ populations using a new technique called “manta tow”.

What is the “manta tow” technique? a diver equiped for snorkeling is being pulled at constant speed by a boat. His mission is to collect observations of sea turtles on dephts ranging from 5 to 25 m deep. Anotehr person records the GPS position, and another observer, on the boat, watches the surroundings to notice any presence of sea turtle.

The 19 technicians and 21 observers specially trained for the “manta tow” technique covered over 614 km of extern slope in 39 days in the field. More than 290 observations of sea turtles were made.


The results

Download the Final Report (in French): Double programme de recherche sur les tortues marines de l’archipel de la Société, Polynésie française – Rapport final 2011

Conclusions of the project on the CEPF website



Satellite tagging
of sea turtles

Satellite tagging of sea turtles provides a scientific tool to follow their moves in the ocean, and to better understand their migrations and their geographical distribution. Hawksbill turtles are relatively common in French Polynesia (especialy Society Islands and Tuamotu islands). However, they have never been studied until 2010.

The presence of adult hawksbill turtles is a puzzling fact, and scientists want to ascertain that these turtles are effectively on their natural feeding area. Indeed, no hawksbill turtle has ever been seen nesting in French Polynesia, and the nesting areas of the turtles present in the area remain unknown.

The Sea Turtles Observatory has been created in order to supplement the existing database and to impulse new research work and studies. Therefore, the first action of the Sea Turtles Observatory was the satellite tagging of three adult hawsbill turtles. The tracks of these turtles is followed by the NOAA who emits the corresponding maps, and sends them regularly to the Observatory. This satellite tagging of hawksbill turtles is the first action of this kind ever carried out in French Polynesia.

The first turtle equipped with a satellite tag was Aretemoe. This name means, in Tahitian language, “ondulating waves of the wide ocean”. This female hawksbill turtle was found by a fisherman in Moorea’s lagoon, in front of Vaiare, on the 03/04/2011. The turtle had been wounded by a harpoon gun. Measuring 78cm and weighting 42,1kg, the turtle was brought to the Sea Turtles’ Clinic in Moorea, and cared after.
Once sufficiently autonomous again, the turtle was released outside the pass of Papetoai (Moorea), on the 12/08/2011, by Onyx Le Bihan, in charge of environment issues at the Commune de Moorea-Maiao (city hall). Since then, Aretemoe moves between Maiao and Moorea.

Marquage Eimeo - Eimeo's taggingThe two other hawksbill turtles equipped with a satellite tag were caught by a diver in apnea, especially in this intention. The two turtles were swimming around 16m average depht, on the external side of Moorea barrier reef, not far from Temae.

Caught on the 08/12/2011, they were released, at the same, place on the 09/12/2011. The first turtle, named Eimeo (the previous name of Moorea), measured 71cm and weighted 34,9kg, and it is probably a sub-adult turtle. The second, a female adult named O Honu (which means “depht”), measured 78cm and weighted 46,2kg. Not enough data have been collected so far to show their track on a detailed map.

Relâche de Tini - Tini's release - Oct 2010


This satelite tagging of sea turtles was made possible thanks to the technical and financial support from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of the USA, Dr. George Balazs of Hawaii (Marine Turtle Research Program at NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service) and the financial support of the Annenberg foundation.


2012, May 11th : Two astronauts and one Miss to release Costa Luna
2010, October 28th : A green sea turtle released, equipped with a satellite tag



1st release of a Loggerhead Turtle equipped with 2 satellite transmittors

391392_600416506644849_1775398400_nThe first Loggerhead turtle welcome at the Clinic and named “Ariti” in tahitien, has been released on Friday 24 th of May 2013 in partnership with the French Polynesia Ministry of the Environment. This turtle was find by a fisherman one month ago on the Tahiti Peninsula. In very good health for now, she has just been released thanks to the Department of Environment of French Polynesia (DIREN) after being equipped with two satellite tags that will track its movements for a few months.
The pause transmitters and monitoring is made possible the support from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) and the Country. The turtle wad relased with schools children of Tehaupo, Tahiti and the Municipality of Tehahupoo.

February 2014 : Ariti reaching the North Pacific

10/01/2013 : Ariti is still leaving Fidji

09/22/2013 : Ariti is leaving Fidji

 08/17/2013 : Arrival in Fidji

08/07/2013 : Heading to Fidji islands

06/15/2013 : 1st positions after the release


This post is also available in: French