Twin turtles begin migration marathons

Loggerheads released in the South Beaches

Flippers flinging sand, Lady Marmalade and Pirate Patty scooted across the beach to the surf amid cheers and applause, then slipped beneath the waves to resume their travels across the Atlantic Ocean, as reported by Local 6 partner Florida Today.

Both loggerhead sea turtles were released Sunday morning at the Barrier Island Sanctuary in the South Beaches. They'll serve as Brevard County's reptilian contestants in the fifth annual Tour de Turtles satellite-tracking migratory marathon.

Tour de Turtles is organized by the Gainesville-based Sea Turtle Conservancy. Eleven other turtles — leatherbacks, loggerheads, greens and hawksbills — are being released from Florida, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guyana and the Leeward Islands.

Starting Wednesday, scientists will track these creatures for roughly three months using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization weather satellites. The turtle that swims the most miles wins.

About 500 spectators watched Sunday's Barrier Island Sanctuary release, estimated Rocio Johnson, STC spokeswoman.

Lady Marmalade and Pirate Patty were "early nesters" who were captured by volunteers after laying eggs by about 9:45 p.m. Saturday in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, said Heather Stapleton, STC education coordinator.

Both turtles were placed in wooden corrals and outfitted with satellite transmitters. Pirate Patty's device was affixed using fiberglass resin, like that used on surfboards, while Lady Marmalade's transmitter was attached with epoxy cement, Johnson said.

Their competitors include Shelldon, a green sea turtle released from Tortuguero, Costa Rica; Karma, a leatherback released from Panama; and Peach and Pearl, a loggerhead duo released from Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

Lady Marmalade and Pirate Patty have big flippers to fill: Belle o' Brevard, the Space Coast's 2008 entry, has become the STC's all-time satellite-tracking champion.

The 350-pound loggerhead's transmitter emitted a signal July 18 near the Delaware-Maryland border, roughly 60 miles offshore. That means Belle o' Brevard covered 8,201 miles in 1,448 days.

Belle O'Brevard is second all-time in migratory distance, trailing only Jamur (10,293 miles), a leatherback who trekked from Panama to Spain to the African coast from 2007-09.

Belle O'Brevard has also transmitted signals for the second-longest tenure, trailing only Ginger (1,670 days), a critically endangered hawksbill from the Leeward Islands. Scientists tracked Ginger's signals from 2007 until late February.