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How Kellogg's Jonas Beuchert's research is helping to protect endangered sea turtles

April 25, 2023

Kellogg student Jonas Beuchert is in the final year of a DPhil in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems at the Department of Computer Science.  He recently tweeted a photo of a sea turtle tracking tag under test in the Kellogg gardens. Naturally, we were intrigued and asked Jonas to share with us details of his involvement in the development of the tracking device.

photo (c) John Cairns

What is a sea turtle tracking tag?
Simply put, it’s a small piece of electronics with an antenna and a battery that goes into a waterproof enclosure and is glued on the carapace of a sea turtle. Whenever the turtle surfaces to breathe, the tag wakes up and captures signals from navigation satellites that orbit the Earth (think of GPS). Once we get the tag back, we do some maths to discover where the turtle spent the past weeks.


Why do people want to track sea turtles?
Nearly all sea turtle species are endangered. Marine pollution, fishing, poaching, and climate change have all led a reduction in their numbers. If we know where they go when they are not at the beach, we can better protect these areas and help populations to survive. (Arguably, protecting them from climate change is a bit trickier…)

What is your role?
I develop the hardware and the software for the tags, but it is not just me: I work with Professor Alex Rogers and in the past I worked with Amanda Matthes, another DPhil student.

Why did you choose this subject for your DPhil?
Existing turtle tags can cost several thousand US Dollars each, making them inaccessible to many wildlife conservationists, this is partially due to expensive electronics. In contrast, we have developed a tag design that is low-cost, highly energy-efficient and will be fully open sourced. In addition, the tag needs only twelve milliseconds of satellite data to resolve a position fix, allowing us to locate a turtle that surfaces only very briefly.

How is the project going?
In summer 2021, working with a local conservation organisation, we had the chance to deploy the first version of our tags on sea turtles in Cabo Verde. Since then, we have open-sourced a general-purpose version of our tracking tags, distributing more than 100 to interested conservationists and researchers for different kinds of animal tracking projects around the world, ranging from sea birds to venomous snakes.

What comes next?
We are planning to work with several collaborators on more joint deployments this summer, including updated versions of our turtle tag. On a personal level, I also need to find a position after finishing my DPhil in autumn, ideally working at the intersection of software and hardware and maybe even on wildlife conservation technology and open hardware and software.

How did Kellogg College support you?
Recently, I received support from a Kellogg Travel Grant, and I also hope to benefit from a Kellogg Research Grant later this year. Also, Kellogg’s tables in the quad are great for assembling and testing sea turtle tags! I am glad to be part of a college where you are allowed to step on the grass.

How can I learn more about your work?
Follow me on Twitter @JonasBchrt or check out our project website or say hello when you see me at college. Please just do not block the view of the sky!