Scientists track sea turtles′ perilous ocean journey | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 05.01.2011
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Scientists track sea turtles' perilous ocean journey

By attaching satellite tracking devices onto 25 turtles, scientists mapped their vast migration pattern. Questions remain though, as to why these particular routes are chosen, and what risk fishing lanes pose to them.

Leatherback turtle

One turtle was found to have swum for 150 days

After studying leatherback turtles for five years, scientists at the University of Exeter in the UK have confirmed the immense migratory routes that females take when swimming from their breeding area in central Africa, to their feeding group in South America.

Their results were published Wednesday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

By attaching a small device to the backs of 25 female turtles, the scientists were able to track their movements via satellite.

The team found that three main migratory routes emerged, each extending for thousands of kilometers into the open ocean of the South Atlantic. The greatest distance observed amongst these turtles was one that swam 7,563 (4,699 miles) in a direct path from Gabon to southern Brazil, over the course of 150 days.

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

"From a human perspective, the South Atlantic is a vast, vast area," he told the Associated Press. "When challenged with that path, how is it that you can get across it and not get lost? I think that's fantastic."

Risk from fishing trawlers

Leatherback turtle

Scientists hope that their study will help to preserve the turtles' way of life

Scientists believe that leatherback turtles are the largest, farthest-ranging and deepest-diving turtles on Earth. They have been known to grow to two meters in length, and can weigh over 900 kilograms.

This new study also revealed that these migratory routes take them directly into the path of many fishing trawlers that use large nets to catch fish.

"All of the routes we've identified take the leatherbacks through areas of high risk from fisheries," said Brendan Godley, a professor of conservation at the University of Exeter, who also participated in the study.

"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," he told the Agence France Presse.

Author: Cyrus Farivar (AP, AFP)
Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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