January 5, 2011

Sat Nav Technology Tracks Turtles Across Atlantic

Thanks to satellite navigation technology, researchers at a British university have managed to track a female giant leatherback turtle as she migrated from an African breeding colony to feeding grounds in the South America--a dangerous 4,700 mile trek that took her across the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists from the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter used sat-nav technology to study the travel patterns of these animals, following 25 females along three different migratory routes starting at the world's largest breeding colony in Gabon, Central Africa, they said in a press release.

According to the AFP news agency, "One route led to a circular zone in the mid-Atlantic between central Africa and Brazil, and another route went far south, beyond the Cape of Good Hope. A third went straight as an arrow across the Atlantic to the coast of South America," a journey that takes the turtles through waters patrolled by fishermen who could unwittingly snare the creatures.

"Despite extensive research carried out on leatherbacks, no-one has really been sure about the journeys they take in the South Atlantic until now," Dr. Matthew Witt, a marine biologist who participated in the study, said in a statement Tuesday.

"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," he added. "We don't know what influences that choice yet, but we do know these are truly remarkable journeys."

The study was published in Wednesday's edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and according to researcher Dr. Brendan Godley, the results of their work can provide invaluable information for marine conservationists seeking to protect ancient and massive reptiles.

"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," Godley said. "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," he added.


Image 1: This is a leatherback turtle on a beach in the South Atlantic. Credit: Matthew Witt

Image 2: This map shows three migration routes monitored during the research. Each one illustrates one of the three main migration strategies identified by the research. Credit: Matthew Witt


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