In rapidly changing ecosystems, understanding animal movement and habitat use is key if we are to support both human and wildlife needs and minimize risk to both. It is also the first step towards understanding the requirements of rare and threatened species. Currently, animal tracking is undergoing a revolution with the development of small, light, and low powered GNSS transmitters, which will allow for sophisticated and continuous tracking of much smaller animals than in the past. However, commercially available systems are prohibitively expensive for broad use in conservation science – often several thousand dollars per individual. By reducing that cost through the use of readily available technology and easy to use integrated development environments, we hope to minimize these cost barriers to allow broader data collection and more thorough understanding of animal behavior. Increased availability of high resolution spatial data should improve conservation planning and successful species management. Diamondback terrapins are the only turtle species in North America to exclusively use estuarine habitat, and their unique appearance has resulted in the nickname - the jewels of the marsh. Until recently, diamondback terrapins were a harvested species, but scientists have documented population declines throughout their range along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
This solution involves the development of a tracker that can acquire location coordinates using the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and transmit those coordinates using a Long Range (LoRa) and a Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) radio system. More details about the project can be found at our GitHub repository: https://github.com/nedhorning/TerrapinTracker. To test our products, we will track diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) in the salt marsh of South Carolina. In addition to becoming bycatch in the blue crab fishery, these small turtles forage and nest in rapidly declining and degrading habitats. Sea level rise and coastal development threaten both of these activities contributing to population declines. To develop conservation planning for this species that accounts for future changes in habitat availability, we require information about spatial attributes of their foraging and nesting habitats as well as where these habitats are likely to occur in the future. It is highly likely that sea level rise will eliminate protected high ground while existing human developments will armor and protect existing structures. Therefore, species like the diamondback terrapin may become trapped between rising waters and armored human development accelerating their declines. To find out more about this system, visit www.kiawahterrapins.org.
Use of animal trackers will increase if they can be sourced more economically
The Terrapin Tracker can be easily adapted to other animals
Other applications will be developed using the components of the trackers
We can create a network of users and developers to become the go-to resource to animal tracking
The biggest barrier at the moment is cost. Our solution will deliver a tracker at less than 1/10th the cost of existing trackers. The other breakthrough will be to demonstrate a working example of a low power and long range (LoRa) communication system that can be used for a wide range of remote monitoring examples. The time is right for this technology to be implemented in the DIY/Maker sphere but more and better open licensed documented workflows are needed for this to be realized in the near-term.
We have a working prototype but over the next six months we will will continue to test new design ideas using off-the-shelf hardware when practical. The main focus will be on producing and testing 15 trackers that we will deploy on the coast of South Carolina in the spring of 2021. We will also work on strategic planning to plan for the future of this project after the first deployment.
Over the next 6 months we hope to secure additional funding to continue improving the tracker and to develop a purpose-built board using improved and more energy efficient components. We continue to look for collaborators who can contribute to this project. In particular we are looking for people with open hardware business plan experience and circuit board design expertise.