(WSVN) - Once a sea turtle hatches, it’s a mystery where they go when they head out into the ocean, but thanks in part to a team from Florida Atlantic University, the mystery is about to be solved. Kevin Ozebek has tonight’s 7 Spotlight.

Emily Turla, Ph.D. student, FAU: “OK, so this turtle ate everything today.”

Florida Atlantic University’s Marine Lab is an exciting place to be these days. That’s because the team here is involved in a groundbreaking project.

Dr. Sean Williamson, FAU researcher: “This is one of the battery-powered tags that we deploy.”

They are using miniscule satellite tags to track young green sea turtles. Their research will solve the mystery of where young sea turtles go and what they do as they mature.

That time spent at sea is called the “lost years.”

Dr. Sean Williamson: “We’re trying to fill that knowledge gap about where these little turtles are going in the ocean at that stage of their life, which is a big unknown at the moment.”

Dr. Sean Williamson and Ph.D. student Emily Turla recently joined other researchers at the Cayman Turtle Center on Grand Cayman Island.

The group released 30 young green sea turtles that were raised at the center.

Emily Turla: “We satellite tagged 30 turtles in one day, which I think is impressive and might be a record.”

They used techniques developed at FAU to attach the trackers.

Emily Turla: “We taught the staff and other people involved just how to prep the turtles’ shell for a tag attachment, the different materials needed and how you have to handle those materials.”

Each micro-satellite tag weighs less than a penny and attaches to the turtles’ shells with marine grade epoxy.

Dr. Sean Williamson: “We’re actually the first researchers in the world to have been applying these tags, so we’re learning as we go, as well.”

The sea turtles were at three different stages of life when they were released in late January. Those age differences will give researchers new insights into their day-to-day lives.

Dr. Sean Williamson: “Where the older turtles going to go to sort of shallower sort of areas of the ocean, where they’re diving for bottom feeding more, where the younger ones are going to go to the more open ocean environments.”

It answers the important question: just where do they go?

Sean and Emily now check the turtles’ movements online.

Dr. Sean Williamson: “I was expecting more of them maybe to head through this passage here.”

Emily Turla: “Same.”

They’re learning the turtles have spread out in all different directions.

Dr. Sean Williamson: “Some of them have been traveling huge distances already from the Caymans right down to the Panama coastline, almost down towards Colombia, some further up north towards the Mexican coastline, towards Jamaica, towards Cuba as well.”

The constantly updated location information is new and exciting.

Emily Turla: “When you’re in it, you don’t really realize how cool it is. When we get these data analyzed, we’ll be able to answer some questions about them that people haven’t been able to answer.”

Finding answers to those questions could help conservationists find solutions to keeping an endangered species safe.

If you’d like to see where the sea turtles are going, click here.

Upwell developed and funded the research for this project and for the release of the turtles, in partnership with Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre, Mercator Ocean International, the University of Maryland, and Florida Atlantic University.

And if you know someone, some group, or some place we should spotlight, send us an email at 7spotlight@wsvn.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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