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Leatherback turtle migration study identifies Pacific danger zones for endangered species
Date:3/1/2012

ween their nesting and feeding sites. In the Pacific Ocean there are two populations of leatherback turtles that nest in the eastern and western Pacific. The study used state-of-the art satellite tracking, the largest satellite telemetry data set ever assembled for leatherbacks, to track 135 turtles. Leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific were tagged at the nesting sites in Costa Rica and Mexico. The western Pacific population was tagged at two nesting sites in Indonesia and at foraging grounds off the coast of California. The tracks were combined with oceanographic satellite data provided by NOAA, NASA, and a number of international partner space agencies to provide important insights into their long distance migrations.

The study found that the western Pacific population nesting in Indonesia traveled to many different feeding sites in the South China Sea, Indonesian seas, southeastern Australia, and the U.S. West Coast, mainly in highly productive coastal areas. This wide dispersal allows for a greater likelihood to find food. It also means that the turtles are more vulnerable to being caught unintentionally by fishing gear in coastal and offshore areas.

The eastern Pacific population had a very different migration pattern, traveling from their nesting sites in Mexico and Costa Rica to the southeast Pacific. These turtles migrated south and tended to feed in offshore upwelling areas where their food, almost exclusively jellyfish, may be concentrated. The more limited feeding areas of the east Pacific turtles makes them more vulnerable to any changes that occur to the distribution or abundance of jellyfish in this area. Deaths caused by human activities, such as being caught in fishing gear, also pose a greater risk of causing this population to go extinct because they have a smaller range than the western Pacific leatherbacks.


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Contact: Amy Pelsinsky
apelsinsky@umces.edu
410-330-1389
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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