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Leatherback turtles' newly discovered migration route may be roadmap to salvation
Date:7/15/2008

With a name like "Leatherback Turtle" you might think the sea turtles could stand up to just about anything the ocean can throw at them, and for more than a hundred million years, they have. But tough, long-lived critters though they are, the population of leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific Ocean has plummeted by over 90 percent in the last 20 years.

Like many species that migrate across a vast ocean, pinpointing all the possible causes of their decline is difficult and figuring out where conservationists might be able to intervene on their behalf is hugely challenging. But a major effort to tag and track leatherbacks that nest on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica has yielded unprecedented insight into their behavior. While most sea turtles, including other populations of leatherbacks, have widely varied dispersal patterns as they fan out across the ocean from the beaches where they nest, the leatherbacks from the beaches at Playa Grande have been found to consistently follow a relatively narrow corridor out into the sea, past the Galapagos Islands and across the equator to an area in the South Pacific where they linger at length. This discovery could be the key to the leatherbacks' salvation.

"Given that the turtles seem to move in a predictable way from the nesting beach through the equatorial region from roughly February through April, we could potentially suspend fishing in certain areas while the leatherbacks are passing through that part of the eastern Pacific," said George Shillinger, doctoral candidate in biology at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station.

By taking the new data correlating turtle movements with various environmental features along their route and comparing that with the timing of fishing activity in the different areas the turtles travel through, the researchers can pinpoint the times and places where turtles are at the highest risk-thus providing new opportunities for improved management of the leatherba
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Contact: Dan Stober
dstober@stanford.edu
650-723-2558
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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