Foraging Grounds
©2006 MEDASSET, Photo: V. Kouroutos

Foraging grounds play an important part in the sea turtle life cycle. After hatchlings exit the nest and make it safely to the sea, they swim in a frenzy to reach the open sea. The ‘lost years’ is the little-known period when young sea turtles stay away from land until they become juveniles. Young turtles develop specialized feeding habits and areas, which vary between species. These are the foraging areas or over-wintering areas where they find food and refuge.

In the Mediterranean nesting occurs only in the eastern basin (Turkey, Greece), whereas the western basin (Tunisia, Libya, France, Italy, Malta, Spain) is predominantly used as a foraging ground and possibly, as developmental habitat for juvenile turtles.

In MEDASSET’s 2005 Rapid Assessment Survey of important Marine Turtle and Monk Seal habitats in the coastal area of Albania; Fishermen, using different types of gear, provided details of their by-catch, sightings and most recent encounters with turtles. By-catch data showed a marked difference in the number of turtles captured annually between the north and south of Albania. Typical catches per fisher per year were 2-6 turtles south of Durres, and 100-250 turtles in the north. Juveniles were mainly captured in shallow waters <10m (trawls, nets, long-lines, and stavnike) during April-May, which suggests that an important foraging habitat for juvenile loggerheads may exist in northern Albania.
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In a study undertaken by Dr Broderick of the University of Exeter and her team twenty green and loggerhead turtles were tracked nesting at two beaches on Cyprus, using satellite transmitters. All females tracked for more than six months remained in the same foraging grounds, moving to deeper water for the winter where they conducted dives of up to a record breaking 10.2 hours. Five females were also tracked when they nested again up to five years later and returned to the same foraging sites. Green turtles have been observed cropping sea grass gardens to encourage new growth, (The only member of Cheloniidae to forage on sea grasses, these turtles play an important ecological role as their grazing of the sea grass stimulates new growth while their feces replenish nutrients to this ecosystem) so there could be a benefit to them returning to foraging grounds. Loggerheads have an omnivorous diet, including molluscs and crustacea, so the benefit to them revisiting feeding areas is unclear. Scientists do not yet know why this behaviour has evolved, but it is possible that sea turtles are territorial or are responding to limited food resources by sticking to their own feeding patches. ScienceDaily, 26/4/2007