Leatherback Sea Turtle Named “Dawn” Migrates Toward Oil Spill

Date: July 12, 2010
Contact: David Godfrey
Phone: (352) 373-6441

GAINESVILLE, FLA. – A leatherback sea turtle outfitted with a satellite transmitter in Panama is now migrating into the Gulf of Mexico directly in the path of the oil spill, showing that sea turtle populations from everywhere in the Caribbean are being impacted by the oil spill.

The leatherback turtle, named “Dawn” in light of the oil spill, was tagged in early June on the coast of Panama as part of Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Caribbean Leatherback Tracking Project.

When the leatherback tracking program began seven years ago, scientists wanted to identify major migratory routes of leatherbacks nesting in the Caribbean.

Of the leatherbacks Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has tracked from Panama over the years, one third have migrated into the Gulf of Mexico, where they are likely foraging on their main diet of jellyfish.

“Satellite-tracking helps us refine our conservation activities so that we do a better job of addressing threats to sea turtles while they are away from their nesting beaches,” said Executive Director David Godfrey.

But in the midst of the largest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, sea turtles are facing their biggest threat ever. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has created a critical situation for turtles and other marine life by contaminating everything from habitats to food resources.

The oil spill disaster threatens to undo decades of conservation efforts as it affects sea turtles in all stages of their life cycles. The Gulf of Mexico provides a wide range of habitats for sea turtles, including nesting beaches for reproduction, nearshore seagrass beds for foraging, and floating sargassum mats for hatchling development.

“This is the worst calamity that I have ever seen for sea turtles,” said Godfrey. “And the threat to the turtles is expected continue well after the oil stops flowing.”

Sea Turtle Conservancy is coordinating with state and federal agencies to assist with mitigation efforts to protect sea turtles. This includes assisting with the egg relocation plan, fixing problem lights around Florida that disorient hatchlings, and providing funding to expand the capacity of sea turtle rehabilitation facilities across the state.

How Can The Public Get Involved?

  • Follow Dawn’s migration online at www.conserveturtles.org;
  • Read STC Executive Director’s blog about sea turtles in the oil spill at blog.fedex.com;
  • Learn more about the oil spill’s impact on sea turtles;
  • Make a donation to the Oil Spill Emergency Fund, which supports Sea Turtle Conservancy’s role in the rescue and recovery efforts.


For images, videos and PSAs, please visit conserveturtles.org/media

About Sea Turtle Conservancy: STC is an international nonprofit and the world’s oldest marine turtle research and conservation organization. Founded in 1959 to support the pioneering work of world-renowned naturalist and author, Dr. Archie Carr, the Florida-based organization is dedicated to ensuring the survival of sea turtles through research, education, advocacy and the protection of the natural habitats upon which they depend.