Epic Leatherback Turtle Migration Tracked by Satellite for First Time!

turtles migration map image
Image: Seaturtle.org

Easier to Protect if We Know Where They're Going

The leatherback sea turtle, which is categorized as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, has a mysterious life. We know where its main breeding colonies are located (the largest one is off the coast of Gabon in Central Africa), but until recently, we only had a general idea of its migration paths. But a team of scientists decided to shed some light on this by tracking 25 female leatherbacks using satellites. Here's what they found...Leatherback Turtle photo Photo: NOAA, public domain. Slow But Steady Wins the Race Three migration routes were identified, one of which is 7,563 kilometers long (4,699 miles) and goes straight across the South Atlantic from Africa to South America! Other routes lead to food-rich areas where the turtles go for 2-5 years to build up enough reserves to be able to reproduce.

turtles migration map image
Image: Seaturtle.org

Dr Matthew Witt said: "Despite extensive research carried out on leatherbacks, no-one has really been sure about the journeys they take in the South Atlantic until now. What we've shown is that there are three clear migration routes as they head back to feeding grounds after breeding in Gabon, although the numbers adopting each strategy varied each year. We don't know what influences that choice yet, but we do know these are truly remarkable journeys - with one female tracked for thousands of miles travelling in a straight line right across the Atlantic." [...]

Dr Brendan Godley said the new research would be vital for informing this conservation strategy: "All of the routes we've identified take the leatherbacks through areas of high risk from fisheries, so there's a very real danger to the Atlantic population. Knowing the routes has also helped us identify at least 11 nations who should be involved in conservation efforts, as well as those with long-distance fishing fleets. There's a concern that the turtles we tracked spent a long time on the High Seas, where it's very difficult to implement and manage conservation efforts, but hopefully this research will help inform future efforts to safeguard these fantastic creatures."(source)

Indeed, if we don't know where they are going, it's much harder to establish effective conservation strategies. The Atlantic leatherbacks are probably in better shape than the Pacific ones ("one nesting colony in Mexico declining from 70,000 in 1982 to just 250 by 1998-9"), but when it comes to conservation, prevention is better than cure.

The image below shows the latest locations of active turtles:

turtles migration map image
Image: Seaturtle.org

The research has been carried out with the help of Parcs Gabon, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), PTMG (Marine Turtle Partnership for Gabon), the Trans-Atlantic Leatherback Conservation Initiative (TALCIN) - a multi-partner effort coordinated by WWF, and SEATURTLE.org.

If you like this article, you can follow me on Twitter (@Michael_GR) and Stumbleupon (THMike). Thanks.

Via Exeter, Discovery News, Seaturtle.org
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Tags: Animals | Oceans


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