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July 16, 2008

A Sea Turtle Highway

The folks over at the Outside magazine blog clued me into the news yesterday about new leatherback sea turtle data from Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station.They tracked 46 turtles on their migratory route, and as it turns out, the leatherbacks swam a very specific path, thousands of miles out to an area near the Galapagos known as the South Pacific Gyre — before returning to Costa Rica to nest. So what are the implications of this vast underwater expressway? Very little is known about their migratory routes, for one thing, and as one Stanford rep said, “…We could potentially suspend fishing in certain areas while the leatherbacks are passing through that part of the eastern Pacific.”This would help fishermen avoid bycatch (accidentally catching the turtles in their nets), thus improving the likelihood that sea turtle mothers could make it to the beach to lay their eggs.The leatherback is critically endangered — in the last 20 years the population of leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific Ocean declined by 90 percent as a result of predation, egg hunting, coastal development, entanglement and ingestion of trash in the oceans, and fishing bycatch. Plus, in similar news, biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service just conducted the here.