In the Pacific ocean, leatherback turtles have seen a precipitous decline over the past three decades with one nesting colony in Mexico declining from 70,000 in 1982 to just 250 by 1998-9*. The exact cause of the dramatic fall-off in numbers is not clear, but turtle egg harvesting, coastal gillnet fishing, and longline fishing have been identified as potential factors.
In the Atlantic, population levels have been more robust but, due to variations in numbers at nesting sites each year, it's not clear whether they are in decline. Conservationists are keen to take action now to avoid a repeat of the Pacific story.
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."
Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program, said: "This important work shows that protecting leatherback turtlesthe ancient mariners of our oceansrequires research and conservation on important nesting beaches, foraging areas and important areas of the high seas. Armed with a better understanding of migration patterns and preferences for particular areas of the ocean, the conservation community can now work toward protecting leatherbacks at sea, which has been previously difficult."
|Contact: Daniel Williams|
University of Exeter