Oscar Wilde once said: “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” These loggerhead sea turtles are now the living embodiment of that quote. To gain a deeper understanding of this endangered species’ habitat and diet, Australian scientists are dressing sea turtles in mini-swim suits.
The people behind this breakthrough in marine reptile fashion are PhD student Owen Coffee and researcher Carmen da Silva from the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences. In the hope of locating the areas where loggerhead sea turtles hunt and forage, the team is collecting their poop with the assistance of these adorable outfits.
An omnivorous species, loggerheads have the broadest geographical range of any sea turtle, inhabiting the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Despite this reign of the seas, threats such as hunting for meat and eggs, plastics pollution, destruction of habitat, artificial lighting on beaches and getting caught in fishing nets has meant loggerheads are at high risk of extinction in the wild. The team hopes their research can ultimately offer some much needed protection to these vulnerable animals.
Photo credit: Owen Coffee/University of Queensland
The researchers captured six loggerhead sea turtles, placed them in seawater tanks at the Moreton Bay Research Station and waited for nature to take its course. Feces give scientists a lot of information about an animal’s diet, but the team faced the problem of collecting enough. “It was challenging to collect the entire faecal sample once it dispersed into the water. So we developed a flexible funnel anchored to the shell, to fit over the turtle’s tail. But this was not a good answer either because the animals are so large, it was difficult to keep the devices in place,” said Coffee in a statement.
After a very bizarre eureka moment with Moreton Bay Research Station’s education coordinator, Dr Kathy Townsend, Coffee went down to his local thrift store and bought some old T-shirts. After a bit of tailoring, cutting and some Velcro, the turtle diaper-slash-bikini was born.
“To our great surprise, it worked perfectly,“ Dr Townsend said. “The suits were easy to put on, comfortable for the sea turtles to wear, looked great, and Owen was able to collect the entire faecal sample.”
And don’t worry, after they had made their deposit, the turtles were promptly released back where they were found in Moreton Bay – feeling more fabulous than ever.