Thursday, December 24, 2009

Following Two Turtles on Their Christmas Journey

Thanks to a new research project, the public can follow the journeys of two leatherback turtles

Noelle and Darwinia are two adult female leatherback turtles that nest in Gabon, Western Central Africa.

And now, we have an unprecedented view of the holiday journey that these two turtles are taking throughout their natural habitat, courtesy of a new research project by the University of Exeter in the U.K.

Scientists have outfitted the two accommodating turtles with satellite-tracking devices which will allow their movements to be closely monitored.

"We are building a high precision model of how these amazing creatures use the seas near Gabon to breed," said project member Dr. Matthew Witt in a University of Exeter press release.

"Our aim is that this will help inform management of fisheries and mineral exploration as well as feeding into ambitious plans to widen the network of marine protected areas in Gabon. It is only by having detailed information on where these creatures go that we can try to protect them."

Humans have been around for a few hundred thousand years. Leatherback turtles have been around for 110 million. They can live up to 80 years and are critical members of all the ecosystems they inhabit.

But though they have proved to be very resilient, they are no match for destructive human activity. Their populations have been threatened by the devastating practice of longline fishing and the expansion of tourism.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists leatherback turtles as critically endangered globally.

"Sea turtles are the ancient mariners of the world" said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program.

"Understanding broader migration patterns and use of the nearshore habitat around their nesting beaches is a key component to their conservation."

  • View the Noelle and Darwinia's journey around the waters of Gabon and subscribe to receive email updates of their progress
  • Sign a Sea Turtle Restoration Project letter urging the Costa Rican legislature to maintain the current protections for the leatherback turtle
  • Sign a WildAid petition to prevent Galapagos longline fishing, which kills hundreds of sea turtles
  • Sign the Sea Turtle Restoration Project Seafood Pledge to avoid tuna, swordfish and shrimp to help sea turtles recover
  • Sign a Wildlife Conservation Society urging American lawmakers to increase conservation funding directed overseas to save global priority species in their natural habitats (U.S. citizens)
image: Darwinia, a female leatherback turtle (credit: Dr. Matthew Witt, University of Exeter)

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